In the book of Job, chapter 13, verse 15, the suffering man Job says of God:
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
I’ve read this verse several times, but there’s always been a block in my heart when I read it. I don’t like to see this verse in the Bible. I don’t want it to be there. But it is.
When I was little, I went to a church that liked to stress the “good news” of the gospel, that God loves us, that God takes care of us, etc., etc.
And I still think that is true. But as I grew up, I started to realize things that I didn’t want to realize.
I started to realize that…
- God’s definition of good is not the same as my definition of good.
- God does not always protect us from things we want to be protected from.
- God does not answer every question we ask Him, especially the perennial question “Why?” (That is, “Why me?”)
And I realized that trust in God does not mean believing that He exists or that he will take care of us the way we want to be taken care of.
It means “though He slay me, I will trust Him.”
Though He slay me.
Though he allow me to suffer, to die, to be confused, to be sick, to do bad things, to have bad things done to me…I will still trust Him.
The Three Friends
When Daniel’s friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah stood up to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow down to his idol under threat of death by fiery furnace, they said:
“The God we serve is able to save us, and He will deliver us. But even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down to your idol.”
(That’s a paraphrase. See Daniel 3:16+ for the actual passage)
When I was old enough to better understand this verse, it absolutely BOGGLED me.
“The God we serve is able to save us.” Pretty straightforward. Theoretically, I also believe God is able to save my life from anything whether that’s fiery furnace or modern disease. Although, on the other hand, it’s true I’ve never been this badly tested before. Most Christians in cushy America haven’t.
“and he will deliver us…” This is harder for someone like me to utter. I always wondered–how did those three KNOW that God would deliver them? Some people may say that even if God didn’t physically deliver them from the fire in this life, He would “deliver them to heaven,” so to speak. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant, because look at this next line:
“but even if he doesn’t, we want you to know…that we will not serve your gods.” Those five words. Those five words. I don’t even know what to say. How can these men be simultaneously so confident that God WILL save them (literally, from the fire), YET ALSO say “even if he doesn’t”?
I don’t think it’s doubt. They speak too confidently for that. I think it’s a kind of trust in God that most of us mortals can’t understand. Just like Job said…”Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.”
Here’s a third and final story, from Exodus 32:
When Moses was leading the Israelites through the desert, there was one horrible episode where he was busy getting the Ten Commandments from the mountain and the Israelites were “downstairs” worshipping a golden calf.
God was furious, of course, and said that he would wipe them out. But Moses begged the Lord and said, “Please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
God ended up answering Moses’ prayer by not wiping out the Israelites (and not wiping Moses’ name out of the Book of Life, either).
Did Moses love the Israelites so much that he was willing to trade his eternal life for theirs? Maybe. But somehow I think it was more than that.
The Israelites caused Moses a lot of problems. It wasn’t fun leading them. Plus, this was early in their journey, and they hadn’t fully showed how annoying they could be yet. They didn’t give Moses a whole lot of reasons to love them, besides the fact that they were his people.
But in verse 12 earlier, when Moses was pleading with God, here’s what he said:
“Why should the Egyptians say ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self…”
What does that all mean?
To me, it means that Moses was offering to give up his place in the Book of Life, not for the sake of the Israelites, but for the sake of God, and God’s name/glory.
He didn’t want God’s name to be ridiculed among the pagans, who would surely despise and make fun of God for miraculously bringing the Israelites out of Egypt only to destroy them.
Does that mean God is a petulant, jealous toddler who needs a more compassionate human like Moses to placate him from his wrath?
I’m sure some atheists, anti-theists, and haters of God would say so.
In my more ugly moments, I am also tempted to think the same.
But again, we come back to those four words:
“Though He slay me…”
And that, in the end, is what it means to trust God, to love God, to follow God, to be a true Christian.
You can interpret every bad thing that happens to you as evidence of God’s hatred, of God’s lack of goodness, of God’s tyrannical, unreasonable, selfish, dictatorial puppeteering of your life. You can shake your fist at him, spit curses at him, turn from him.
Or you can say: “Though He slay me…”
I admit, the first option is very tempting, especially in the middle of suffering and confusion. It’s bad enough that God allows bad things to happen to us, but it’s worse that He allows us to FEEL it.
I mean, I’m sure we wouldn’t mind being burned to death if it didn’t hurt.
We wouldn’t mind being betrayed by a friend if God Himself came down to physically wipe away our tears right away and speak comforting words in our ears.
It wouldn’t be so bad to lose a loved one if we never felt like we missed them, and could happily go about our lives, looking forward to when we meet again.
But that doesn’t (usually) happen.
We suffer. We cry. Bad things happen and God doesn’t always prevent them, or comfort us right away. There are many reasons why this may be the case…as many reasons as there are situations.
Sometimes we will find out the reasons, and it will bring a measure of comfort and satisfaction. Sometimes we won’t.
It’s not comfortable, and it’s not fun, and it’s not easy to say, “Though he slay me, I will trust him.”
But I’ve thought about this a long time, and in the end, I believe it’s necessary. We’ve got to learn to say this.
Two Ways to be “Slain”
When I was a child, two major adult figures in my life struggled with emotional issues. Sometimes, they took it out on me. Being little, there was nothing I could do about it.
Sometimes I fought back, but it was useless. They were bigger, and had more authority, and I always ended up hurting more if I tried to resist.
So I ended up retreating to my room to cry, and then I would move on with life. I thought I’d “dealt” with my pain, but in reality, I had merely resigned myself to the situation, in a hopeless, helpless, bitter sort of way.
It wasn’t until many years later that those decades of stuffed-away emotions started leaking out again in twisted, ugly ways.
One thing I learned from this experience is that saying “Though he slay me,” means truly surrendering. Surrendering your pride, and your rights, and your questions.
But there are two ways to surrender:
- You can surrender in helplessness, with bitterness, fear, and resentment.
- Or you can surrender in peaceful willingness, with hope, trust, and patience.
I’ve always surrendered in the first way. But I have heard that some people have found a way to do it in the second manner. And when I read these stories in the Bible, I think that is what happened with these people.
With Job, I’m not sure. He was probably in a great deal of pain, and I don’t think he was exactly peaceful, but I think in the agony of his suffering, he was insisting on trusting God and acknowledging His goodness anyway. In any case, I doubt he was speaking out of bitterness and resentment.
With Moses and Daniel’s three friends, I believe they were speaking in trust and hope as well. Daniel’s friends’ words are the essence of calm trust.
And Moses obviously pleaded with God because he had hope that God would hear him. Perhaps when he offered up his name in the Book of Life, he knew that God would not really take him out, but he wanted to show God how committed he was, how much he loved Him.
And maybe that’s the key. We need to love God, because sometimes God calls us to suffer, for reasons we don’t know immediately, and the only way not to sink into resentment and bitterness is to love.
Moms don’t resent their babies for putting them through the pain of labor, because they love those babies. Spouses of sick people don’t resent their loved ones for making them take care of them, because they love their spouses.
If we loved God, for Himself and not because He does things for us, we wouldn’t mind so much when He lets us hurt, not just because we know He has a good reason (even if we don’t know it yet), but because when you really love someone, you’re willing to suffer for them.
Trust, love, faith…they are different words, but perhaps they all describe different facets of the same thing.
I’m still learning how to love God, and there are times it’s really hard and I really don’t want to. Sometimes (to be honest: usually), when He allows me to get hurt, I feel really angry, and betrayed, and bitter.
Perhaps part of it stems from bad habits acquired from my experiences in childhood/youth. But that’s not a good enough excuse, I know. I have a lot to learn. In the meantime, I will continue to meditate on these words:
“Though He slay me…
I will trust Him.”