May 17, 2009

Hope against Hope – Part 3 – When Hope Seems to Fail

The Response of Job – Worship and Honest Supplication

Job was an extremely wealthy man - one who feared God and turned away from evil. He had ten children and was clearly blessed beyond measure. However, within the course of a day, Job receives news that all of his oxen and donkeys have been stolen and his servants murdered, all of his sheep and their shepherds have been consumed by a fire from the sky, and all of his children have been killed in a tornado.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20-21

What is Job’s response? He is devastated and distraught. He mourns as any human being would in the face of such tragedy. It’s important to note this part, lest you read the following sentence as some kind of platitude denying the reality of the situation. As if he had said, “Oh well, praise God anyway.” Job is worshipping in the midst of his intense mourning, acknowledging the God who created him, who blessed him with all that he has ever had, and who has now, in his sovereign will, taken those blessings away.

It does not end here…

Job is struck with a horrible skin disease from his head to his toe (Job 2:7-8; Job 7:5). He finds himself sitting in ashes scraping off dead skin with a broken piece of pottery. He has reached rock bottom at this point.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:9-10

Job’s wife has seen enough and she tells him to curse God and die, yet Job refuses. There are roots that go much deeper than Job’s possessions, family, and even his own health. God is not a compartment of Job’s life, but is the very foundation of it. Though he doesn’t know what God is doing, he refuses to lose faith and he knows that there is no one else to turn to in this situation but God himself. You can hear the echoes of Psalm 73:25-26 and Psalm 63:3 throughout the book.

It’s worth noting here that the book reveals more to us about what was going on than Job himself knew at the time. We see the scene in heaven, where Satan comes before God and challenges the Job’s faith. Satan says that Job only fears God because he has been blessed with so much, and later that he only fears God because he has his health. God permits Satan to take away everything Job has, and then later to take his health, only requiring that his life be spared. So the actual agent in Job’s calamity was Satan. However, both times Job credits God with what has happened. Was Job wrong? Did he falsely accuse God for his circumstances when it was actually Satan who harmed him? Job 1:22 and Job 2:10 seem to indicate that this was not the case. Instead, Job knows that God is sovereign, and though there may be other agents involved, nothing comes to pass without his consent. Therefore, he goes to the source, the only one whose will must be done, and acknowledges that God is ultimately the source of everything that he receives, both good and bad.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
Job 13:15

So in the midst of this suffering, Job worships God and demonstrates that God is more precious to him than everything that he has lost. His hope is in God himself, and not simply in the gifts that God gives. However, the book of Job is not advocating an attitude of stoicism here. Facing immense pain and suffering, Job takes his case to God, to plead with him. The next 35 chapters consist of the back and forth between Job and his friends, and Job’s appeals to God.

Eliphaz: God does not punish the innocent, so clearly you are being disciplined. Hold in there and he will restore you.
Job: I have no strength to wait and I wish that God would just finish me off. Show me where I have done wrong!
Bildad: God is not unjust. Your children sinned and were delivered up. Plead to God for mercy and he will restore you.
Job: I know that God is all-wise and no one can contend with him and say, “What are you doing?” I am blameless, yet I suffer like this. I see that the blameless and the wicked are both destroyed in calamity. God, why am I suffering like this though I am innocent?
Zophar: You cannot speak that way about God. Remove iniquity and injustice from you and he will restore you.
Job: I know all these things. I know that God is all-wise and powerful, yet that is not helping me. Why do you guys stick up for God and show partiality? God will judge you. God, withdraw your hand from me and let me speak to you. Show me my sin.
Eliphaz: How dare you speak about God like that! The wicked suffer because of their wickedness.
Job: You all are miserable comforters. I am ready to die.
Bildad: God punishes the wicked and they are brought low.
Job: Your words are torture. All my friends have forsaken me and I am despised of men. I know that my Vindicator lives and that he will vindicate me. Though I am going to die, I will see God.
Zophar: Don’t you know that the wicked will suffer greatly in the earth?
Job: Look at me, and what do you see?! Yet look at the world. The wicked become great kings and prosper, though they say, “We have no need of God.” I see the wicked succeed at every turn. Clearly, your words are of no comfort.
Eliphaz: Clearly you are full of sin! You’ve stolen from your brothers. You’ve refused water to the thirsty and food to the hungry. You’ve despised widows and orphans. Repent and return to God.
Job: I want to speak with God and plead my case before him. Where is he? Where is his justice?
Bildad: No man can be in the right before God!
Job: God is all powerful and who can understand his ways. I refuse to accept all of your accusations against me. Until I day, I will confess my innocence in this matter. Where is wisdom to be found but in God? The fear of the LORD is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.
Zophar: Silence
Job: I wish that things were like they used to be, when everything was pleasant, and I acted righteously to those who were suffering. But now I am scorned and abhorred and my afflictions have overwhelmed me. If I have been sinful, then let my judgment come upon me, but I insist that this is not so.

At this point, a new speaker emerges. Elihu, who has been listening up to this point, can no longer remain silent. When considering his words, take two things into account: 1. Unlike his other friends, Job does not counter Elihu and seek to defend himself. 2. When God declares Job’s friends in the wrong, he does not include Elihu in his judgment.

“Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
and with continual strife in his bones,
so that his life loathes bread,
and his appetite the choicest food.
His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen,
and his bones that were not seen stick out.
His soul draws near the pit,
and his life to those who bring death.
If there be for him an angel,
a mediator, one of the thousand,
to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become fresh with youth;
let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
“Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
Job 33:19-30

“The godless in heart cherish anger;
they do not cry for help when he binds them.
They die in youth,
and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
and opens their ear by adversity.
He also allured you out of distress
into a broad place where there was no cramping,
and what was set on your table was full of fatness. “
Job 36:13-16

The insight that Elihu’s speech provides is that both the righteous and the wicked do indeed suffer affliction, but that God is not punishing the righteous. Instead, he is saving them by means of their affliction, bringing them into a place of blessedness. He is purifying them of sin, and bringing them into a greater knowledge of himself.

The book of Job often leaves one with more questions than answers, but it is a book worth dwelling on. God does not explain to Job why he has suffered, nor does he offer a defense to Job. Yet it appears that Job’s interpretation of his own suffering has changed, and he no longer desires vindication from God. Ironically, Job is vindicated after all and God declares that he spoke what is right, unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. I’ll leave it to you to ponder the mysteries and the questions of Job, but consider:

- The righteous do suffer, and God has allowed it
- Satan is often the immediate agent of this, even acting through natural disasters, but he must be permitted by God to do so
- In worshipping through suffering, the righteous display that they treasure God above all else
- The intent of suffering for the righteous is not punitive, but salvific
- There are times when it is clear that someone’s suffering is the result of a specific sin of which they are in denial or unrepentant (e.g. David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:7-14) and the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:27-34)) and the proper response is confrontation on the part of their brothers, and repentance on the part of the one who sinned. However, other times (as in Job’s case) this is not clear, and the proper response of the comforters is to weep with those who weep, and comfort them in the knowledge that God is sovereign and that he does not afflict his children with retribution as a judge, but with the hands of a loving Father he brings them up in righteousness and is conforming them to the image of his Son. The proper response of the one suffering is to seek after God with a humble honesty, laying their hearts bare before God, prepared with the knowledge that they may not receive an explanation, but may instead have an encounter with the living God.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
1 Peter 4:19

1 comment:

Joshua said...

A well spoken and timely massage. Thanks for this one Jacob