Why Am I Following Jesus?

“God is so good! He answered my prayer!” Yes, but God would still be good had God not answered your prayer. God is good all the time. 

Why are we following Jesus? To escape hell? To have a happy life? Gain inner peace? Answered prayers? Deliverance from troubles? What is our motive?

It pretty much bothers everyone who reads Jobthat the book depicts satan in God’s presence making deals and bets with God at Job’s expense.

In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) satan is not equated with our concept of a personal devil. The word “satan” is a Hebrew word (שָׂטָן) that means adversary. It is not a proper name. The figure here in Jobis more like a challenger who is invited into God’s presence. This satan does do some very bad things, however. 

No one knows who Job was. No one has definitive proof he existed or did not exist. However, it would be quite rare for Jewish writers of the Hebrew Bible to simply make up nonexistent people, so the safest assumption would be that he was a real person.

According to the text, Job lived in southern Arabia, probably in the southeast corner of Mesopotamia somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 to 2000 BC, perhaps in the area that is now Yemen or Ethiopia. We gather that from the references to the Sabeans and Chaldeans in 1:15-17. Jobis included in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so it must have been written prior to the second century BC. It belongs to the genre of Hebrew Wisdom Literature, and, therefore, most scholars agree that it was most likely a very old legend about a real man who lived centuries prior, whose story was written down a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus. 

Jobis wisdom literature. Wisdom literature was written by Jewish sages to instruct. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also wisdom literature. Village wisdom records short, pithy sayings, framed as parental instruction, as in Proverbs 20. Royal wisdom deals with palace politics and instructs bureaucrats on how to conduct themselves. Proverbs 23:1-3 is an example. Theological wisdom often deals with controversial topics, such as the existence of God. (See Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.) Unlike the prophets, who received their messages directly from God, Jewish sages gained wisdom by observing nature and wrestling with why the universe does not always seem to make sense in light of having been created by a good and loving God. 

Much of Proverbs is based on the retributive principle, i.e., the belief that righteous people are blessed and the wicked are cursed – a cause for every effect. In Proverbs the theme arises often – be righteous and God is pleased and will bless you. That is generally true, but not always. Which brings us to the book of Job. Job is theological wisdom.

The retributive principle works fine as a generalization, but can easily lead to a quid-pro-quo transactional faith – following God, obeying God for what we get out of it. The contemporary prosperity gospel is an example. The motive is wrong. I give in order to get; my faith is based on bargains with God. My obedience is conditional. 

The promises made in the context of retributive wisdom literature are not guarantees. They are observations about how things can be expected to normally go. For instance, Proverbs 29:14 promises, “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” That may be true in some heavenly eternal sense, but that’s not what the author had in mind. The author was observing that, generally speaking, when a ruler cares for the poor, God blesses his or her reign. But that may not always pan out. There are exceptions. 

Job’s three friends assume the retributive principle. In their minds, there must be a reason why all this bad stuff has happened, so they seek to ferret out the sin, the errors, the cause. Like the apprentices of Jesus, the friends of Job assume a causal connection for the tragedies. In John 9, Jesus’ followers ask, “Who sinned that this man was born blind? Him? His parents?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Jesus is not interested in “why;” he is interested in what we do now. Do not look to the past for reasons, but rather to the present and future for purpose. It is far more godly to relieve suffering than to assign blame. 

Proverbs assumes that if you’re a good person things will go well for you. Now enter Job’s world. Here’s the godliest man you can possibly imagine, yet he suffers unimaginable tragedy and loss. 

The satan, the adversary, the challenger, asks the central question: “Does Job fear God for no reason?” Why is Job a God-follower? Is he following God for what he can gain? Is he following God because doing so is the way to prosperity and blessing? Is he doing so because it leads to having a happy family? Is his a transactional faith? 

How many sermons and sermon series have been preached with the implied message, “Follow Jesus and you’ll have a great marriage, wonderful family, financial success, inner peace, joy, a guarantee of eternal life?” Am I following Jesus only so that I can escape hell? If there were no hell, would I follow him? What is my motive for being his?

The central question: What is my motive? Why am I following God?

Job is entirely innocent. His friends sit with him in bereaved silence for a week. That, by the way, is the best thing we can do when loved ones suffer loss. Ministry of presence – just be there – don’t say anything. Weep with those who weep; don’t lecture them. Let the suffering person speak. Just listen. 

Then Job’s friends started talking. That was their mistake. Long poetic dialogues take up most of the book – three friends locked into the retributive principle, assuming Job must have done something to cause all this suffering. In their minds, there has to be a reason. 

Job’s responses are in the form of lament. God never rebukes or challenges lament. Even Jesus prayed a prayer of lament in the garden and quoted a Psalm of lament on the cross. It is never wrong to weep, to grieve, to feel the weight of loss. 

Out of nowhere, a young know-it-all punk named Elihu pops up. He rebukes everybody and insists that all suffering, all evil that can befall a human, is divine justice. He insists that God causes everything. Job’s three friends ignore him. Job ignores him. God ignores him. The best thing you can do with a theological know-it-all is ignore him. 

In chapters 38 and following, God speaks. Surely, God will supply the answers to the riddles of theodicy. No such luck. 

Ancient Neareastern people saw the natural world as lacking order. It was neither good nor evil. It was amoral, without will-power. God brings order into the natural world. God is moral. There are, however, evil forces at work – the devil, fallen angels, principalities, powers, spiritual wickedness. Those evil forces seek to disrupt God’s order with disorder. They are immoral. 

God’s message to Job (and his friends) demonstrates that there are many things beyond their understanding, the universe is more ordered than they know, things are not as chaotic as they seem from the human perspective. God does not imply that God causes everything. God is not depicted in the book of Job as doing anything to hurt Job. But, at least for now, this is simply the way the universe is. It is moral, amoral, and immoral all at once. The long historical arc may bend toward justice, but injustice remains. Bad things happen to good people. The question for us is not whybad things happen, but howwe respond to them. 

Some of the bad things that happen to us are our own fault. If I drive drunk and cause an accident, I am to blame. If I smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and get lung cancer, I’ve no one to blame but myself. 

Other people cause some of the bad stuff that happens to us. They might injure us, cheat us, betray us, or pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Still other things are amoral. Viruses, for example, have no will of their own. Viruses don’t target sinful people specifically. So, we ask, why would God create viruses? Without viruses to control them, bacteria would wipe out all other life on earth. But, why not, if you’re God, create viruses that only target bad bacteria, not all the good bacteria and certainly not humans? 

Back to Job. The question of why is never answered. God simply describes some of the intricacies of nature. There’s more order than we realize. Nature is unfinished. Creation groans for completion. Jesus died and rose again to redeem the entire cosmos. God is rescuing all of creation, making all things new.  God’s kingdom will come to earth. Everything is not yet as it will be.

God references two ancient Neareast chaos monsters – behemoth, the land monster; leviathan, the sea monster. In the minds of ancient Neareastern people – both are part of the amoral non-ordered natural world, but here depicted as under God’s control as playthings. There is more order than you know, Job. It’s not all ordered yet, but it’s not as chaotic as you assume.

And Job repents. Of what? He did nothing wrong. He was as close to sinless as a person (other than Jesus) can get. He was falsely accused. What was his error? 

I think Job’s error was assuming that the universe should make sense to humans. 

But the essential question of the book is answered. Why is Job serving God? Is he doing so for the benefits? What is his motive? 

It turns out, Job is following God simply because God is God and Job is Job. Creator and created creature. King and subject. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” 

Obedience is where it begins. God is God. I am not. God speaks. We obey.

We circle back. What is my motive for obedience? Am I simply to obey because I have to, because the consequences of disobedience are horrific? In Job, God seems capricious. There may be more order in the universe than I’m aware of, but there’s still a lot that seems arbitrary. Where is God in all this? 

A transactional faith relationship won’t do. The retributive principle doesn’t always hold true. Some things have no answers, at least in this life. 

So, now what? Blind trust? Is God saying, “Just trust me, I know what I’m doing?” Is this a blind leap of faith? 

Fast forward. Jesus. God incarnate. “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” “I and the Father are one.” God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God.

Yes, the universe still seems arbitrary, capricious, irrational, and at times, heartless. Yes, bad things sometimes happen to very good people. 

But the essence, the heart, the core, of all reality is perfect, unconditional, universal, eternal, impeccable, cruciform love.

I trust. I obey. Not for what I can gain. Nor for what I can avoid.

I trust; I obey because I am saturated with divine love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. I see the beauty in God’s face. I spontaneously respond in a love that trusts Love, that knows God tenderly cares for me, that I am God’s beloved, that nothing can separate me from God, that God’s will and way are not only what is best for me, but are the true paths of eternal joy. 

Why are we following God? What is our motive? 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on May 21, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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