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'I remember one day in the early springtide,' Tolstoy writes in his Confessions, 'I was listening to the sounds of a forest, and thinking only of one thing, a thing of which I had thought for two years on end I was again seeking for a God.... I remembered that I had lived only when I believed in a God. As it was before, so was it now; I had but to know God, in order to live; I had but to forget Him, to cease believing in Him, and I died. What was the meaning of this despair and renewal? I do not live when I lose faith in the existence of a God; long ago I should have killed myself, had I not had a dim hope of finding Him. I only live in reality when I feel and seek Him. "What more then do I seek?" a voice seemed to cry within me. "This is He, He without whom there is no life. To know God and to live are one. God is life. Live to seek God and life will not be without Him." Whereupon, stronger than ever life rose up in me, and the light that shone then has never left me. Thus was I saved from suicide.... The state of mind in which I was then may be compared to this. It was as if I had suddenly found myself sitting in a boat which had been pushed off from a shore unknown to me, as if I had been shown the direction of the opposite shore, furnished with oars, and left alone. I ply the oars as best I can. I row on, but the further I go the stronger becomes the current that sweeps me out of my course, and the oftener I meet with other navigators also carried away by the stream. From all sides these cheerful and triumphant mariners, as they row or sail down the stream, call to me that this is the one course. I believe them and drift down with them, carried so far that I can hear the roar of the rapids in which I am bound to perish. Already I see boats wrecked there. Then I come to myself. Before me I see nothing but destruction. I am hurrying towards it. What, then, am I to do? On looking behind me, I see a countless number of boats not drifting but battling with the current, and then I remember all about the shore, the ocean, the true course; all at once I start to row hard up the stream, towards the shore.
'The shore is God, the course and current, tradition, the oars, the free-will given me to make for the shore and seek union with the Deity. And thus it was that the vital force revived within me, and once more I began to live.' It is the infinite for which we hunger, and we ride gladly upon every little wave that promises to bear us towards it.
Were the soul separate from the body, and with one glance of thought should start beyond the bounds of creation, should it for millions of years continue its progress through infinite space with the same activity, it would still find itself within the embrace of its Creator, and encompassed round with the immensity of the Godhead. Whilst we are in the body He is not less present with us, because He is concealed from us. 'Oh that I knew where I might find Him!' (says Job). 'Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him: on the left hand where He worketh, but I cannot behold Him: He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him.' In short, reason as well as revelation assures us, that He cannot be absent from us, notwithstanding He is undiscovered by us.
Addison in The Spectator (No. 566).
I know not how it is, but the more the realities of heaven are clothed with obscurity the more they delight and attract; and nothing so much heightens longing as such tender refusal.
Quoting this passage in his Religious Aspect of Philosophy (pp. 218 f.), Prof. Royce comments: 'The moral insight cares not for individual rewards.... Job seeks, in his consciousness of moral integrity, for outer support in the midst of his sufferings. Now, whatever he may think about rewards, they are not only rewards that he seeks. He wants a vindicator, a righteous, all-knowing judge, to arise, that can bear witness how upright he has been; such a vindicator he wants to see face to face, that he may call upon him as a beholder of what has actually happened.... The knowledge such as a Job sought, the knowledge that there is in the universe some consciousness which sees and knows all reality, including ourselves, for which therefore all the good and evil of our lives is plain fact this knowledge would be a religious support to the moral consciousness.'
'Why is God so far from us' is the agonizing question which has depressed so many hearts, so long as we know there were hearts, has puzzled so many intellects, since intellects began to puzzle themselves. But the moral part of God's character could not be shown to us with sensible, conspicuous evidence; it could not be shown to us as Fleet Street is shown to us, without impairing the first pre-requisite of disinterestedness, and the primary condition of man's virtue. And if the moral aspect of God's character must of necessity be somewhat hidden from us, other aspects of it must equally be hidden.
Bagehot on The Ignorance of Man.
All here seems so permanent, so still, so secure, and yet we are spinning and whirling through space to some unhuman goal. What are the thoughts of the mighty unresting Heart, to whose vastness and agelessness the whole mass of these flying and glowing suns are but as a handful of dust that a boy flings upon the air? How has He set me here, a tiny moving atom, yet more sure of my own minute identity than 1 am of all the vast panorama of things which lies outside of me? Has He indeed a tender and a patient thought of me, the frail creature whom He has moulded and made? I do not doubt it; I look up among the star-sown spaces, and the old aspiration rises in my heart, 'Oh that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even into His presence!' How would I go, like a tired and sorrowful child to his father's knee, to be comforted and encouraged, in perfect trust and love, to be raised in His arms, to be held to His heart! He would but look in my face, and I should understand without a question, without a word!
A. C. Benson, From a College Window, pp. 325, 326.
Compare Butler's Thirteenth Sermon.
References. XXIII. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2272. Ibid. vol. xlv. No. 2615. XXIII. 3, 4. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 231. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 700.
The Book of Job and the Prometheus of Æschylus may be placed side by side as the two protests of the ancient world against Divine oppression the one the protest of monotheism, the other of polytheism.... Just as Prometheus at the outset maintains silence one of those eloquent Æschylean silences so too Job held his peace 'seven days and seven nights'; and then, like Prometheus, reviews his own life, proudly proclaiming his own innocence.
S. H. Butcher.
References. XXIII. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 108. XXIII. 8-10. Ibid. vol. xlvii. No. 2732.
The Gospel of the Left Hand
There is great insight in that idea. It is no mere casual remark. Why did the Spirit of the Lord inspire Job to make that impressive allusion? Surely it was to tell us, to our great and endless comfort, that there is a gospel of the left hand. On the unfortunate side of things we may expect to find the operation of God. Job is describing his unsuccessful quest of God. 'Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him. On the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him. He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him.'
It means much that Job so emphatically asserts that God works on the left hand of things. 'I go on the left hand,' says the troubled patriarch. We all do, and we often do. But we shall find that God doth work there. This is the gospel of the left hand, and we greatly need it. It is easy to find a gospel of the right hand. But much of life is spent on the left hand, and a gospel of the left hand is precious as rubies.
I. God Works on the Undesired Side of Things.
'The left hand' has always and everywhere typified what is undesired. 'The left' is the term by which the Opposition is described in the Parliaments of the Continent of Europe; and I have not observed that statesmen and politicians are eager to be numbered among 'the left'.
In temporal matters we often discover the operation of our loving God where all is adverse. Sinister experiences prove to be Divine experiences. When we are where we deprecate being we behold the handiwork of God. When health fails, when business deteriorates, when friends cast us asunder, when sorrow darkens our home, when causes languish which we dearly love on the left hand God doth work. What a grateful gospel this! How sanguine it should make us! Here is a fountain of sanest optimism. We need not dread being driven to the left hand of life, if there we meet our redeeming God. The undesired is desirable if there the Father worketh.
And this is equally true in spiritual things. Our soul is too often on the left hand. But even there God works. He is ready to pardon. Mercy is His supreme delight. And our grateful song shall presently arise, 'He restoreth my soul'.
II. God Works on the Awkward Side of Things. 'The left hand' is the popular parable of the awkward. It is a dictionary's definition of the word 'awkward' that it is 'not dexterous'. A child knows that dexterity is right-handedness. So the right hand speaks of what is graceful, facile, and the left hand of that which is awkward. How strange the persistent ill-repute of the left hand! The 'left-handed man' is the awkward, clumsy, resourceless man. Many of our current phrases illustrate this idea of the left hand as the symbol of the awkward.
We are ever apt to be called to the awkward experiences of life. Many of us are, perhaps, at this moment, most awkwardly situated. Our location is 'on the left hand'. But God is located there too! It is 'where He doth work'. Life's awkward spheres would be unendurable but for this. The redemption of the left hand is the active presence of Jehovah.
III. God Works on the Neglected Side of Things. The left hand is the abiding symbol of the inauspicious. Who goes to the left hand if he can help it? It is a region shunned of all. No sphere is so unpopular. Avoid it, pass it by, is the general counsel; and it is a counsel thoroughly well acted upon.
But on the left hand 'He doth work'. He loves to cultivate a neglected land. No man's land is His Paradise of Delights. Whom man forsakes the pitiful God assists. Where others are wanting, and when others are wanting, He is sweetly in evidence. The country that is not watered with the foot the Lord waters out of His chambers.
IV. On the Unsuccessful Side of Things God Works. From the beginning believers in 'luck' have deplored and denounced the left hand. They have always described it as unlucky. When the Roman augur found his birds appearing on the left hand they were unlucky omens to him. The left hand is, and always has been, the sign of the unsuccessful.
Instinctively we feel we need a God who will work in the latitudes of the unsuccessful. And such a God is the God of the Bible. Many are ready to help the successful, till the familiar proverb is substantially justified that 'Nothing succeeds like success'. But God intervenes in behalf of those who fail. He cares for the beaten-in-life. He works for the disconsolate.
V. God Works on the Unhopeful Side of Things. The left hand is the region where hope is abandoned. It is the country unillumined by the kindly light of anticipation. But where human hope is wanting God is not wanting. Job knew, if ever man did, what it was to be on the left hand, but he declares, 'He knoweth the way that I take. When He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.' On the left hand he discovered the effectual working of God.
VI. God Works on the Undiscerning Side of Things. The left hand has always been regarded as figurative of what is dull, stupid, unapprehensive. Job complained: 'I go... on the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold Him.' Many, when they go on the left hand, cannot behold God and His working. But He works where undiscerned. Like Job, we may not see Him or His operations, but when we are on the left hand we are in the privileged area of His ministrations. He is near many who do not behold Him. Many are saved who do not know that they are saved. God works in the interests of multitudes who cannot behold Him. O soul, opaque and dejected, know that God is working where thou dwellest. Our vision may be dim, but His work is glorious.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Gospel of the Left Hand, p. 3.
A World without a contingency or an agony could have no hero and no saint, and enable no Son of Man to discover that he is a Son of God. But for the suspended plot that is folded in every life, history is a dead chronicle of what was known before as well as after.... There is no Epic of the certainties; and no lyric without the surprise of sorrow and the sigh of fear.
References. XXIII. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2098. XXIII. 11,12. Ibid. vol. xxvi. No. 1526. XXIII. 13. Ibid. vol. vii. No. 406. XXIV. Ibid. vol. xlvii. No. 2732.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Job 23". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany