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Job 2:11-31:40: Do You Trust God When the Righteous Suffer? Print E-mail
Job
Sunday, 08 May 2011

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I do not want to be a miserable comforter, which is how Job describes his friends in 16:2. I want to be a faithful pastor. I want to be a loving minister when people are struggling. Thus, I find myself asking this question: How do I minister to others in their suffering? When I counsel folks who are hurting, when I visit folks in the hospital, when I preach funerals, in all of these times and more, I want to faithfully shepherd and minister to my fellow believers. Likewise, ministry is not just in those first difficult moments of shock and despair. No, suffering can last for months and years. Thus, after the funeral is over, after the trial is gone, how do I keep ministering to those in need? These are important questions for me as a pastor. And they are important questions for us all as we labor to love and serve the family of God.

The book of Job wrestles with lofty ideas. It is theologically rich and philosophically profound. Yet, it is not just a book about theories and arguments. The three cycles of the friendsí speeches and Jobís responses are full of ideas that we can debate and discuss. We can try and solve the problem of evil (or how can a good and powerful God allow evil). We can debate Godís sovereignty over evil and suffering. We can (and should at times) swim in the deep waters. Yet, we do not need to miss the practical implications of the book of Job either. These conversations are not just some philosophical debate. No, this is a hurting, desperate man. He is not just trying to win an argument as much as he is trying to maintain his faith in light of such terrible suffering. As we consider these numerous chapters this morning, we need to keep this in mind, for in these three cycles we learn much about comforting others (and ourselves) in times of suffering. So then, let me begin with an overview of the passage and then consider our question for this text.

Passage Overview:

The three friends are introduced in 2:11-13. Look at those verses. Although the friends will not do a great job comforting their friend, it is important to note that it seems that they really did care about Job. They are not necessarily Ďbad guys.í They come to show him sympathy and comfort him. They want to help Job. (Of course, we should note that good intentions are simply not enough, but more on that in a moment.) We should also note the absolutely best thing that the friends do for Job, namely they sat with him in silence for seven days. Unfortunately, they do not remain silent, but we should learn from their willingness to just be present with Job.

Job breaks the silence by lamenting his own birth: Let the day perish on which I was born. Some view this as completely incompatible with the Job of faith that we meet in the prologue. Yet, anyone who has faced difficult suffering knows that initial responses of faith and trust do not mean that a person will never struggle. Job believes in God, believes in His goodness and sovereignty. Yet, he still will wrestle with understanding his experience. So much so that he breaks the silence by longing for his own death.

After Job breaks the silence in chapter 3, the first cycle of speeches begins in chapter 4 and runs through chapter 14. Each friend speaks and Job responds, although his response is not always closely related to what the friend has said. In the first cycle, Eliphaz begins somewhat compassionately in trying to point out that God only punishes the wicked. After Job responds and maintains his innocence, Bildad and Zophar will not be so compassionate. The second cycle (ch. 15-21) is shorter but more pointed. The friends become fiercer in their arguments, while Job continues to maintain his innocence and cry out to God. The third cycle (ch. 22-27) is even shorter, containing only a six verse speech from Bildad and no speech from Zophar. It is obvious that their arguments are getting nowhere. After Jobís final response to the friends (ch. 26-27), we are given his hymn to wisdom (ch. 28) and his closing remarks (ch. 29-31).

Let me note a couple of themes that emerge from these speeches. First, the friends hold fast to the teaching that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Scholars call this the doctrine of double retribution. Simply put, they see Jobís suffering and can only conceive of one possible explanation: Job has sinned. Eliphaz sum this up nicely in 4:7-8. Look at those with me. Essentially the friends are reminding Job that a man reaps what he sows. And in one sense even Job does not deny the doctrine of retribution. If a person is familiar at all with the Bible, then they have to recognize that what they are saying is generally true. Deuteronomy 28 teaches us this. Look at that with me. The book of Proverbs teaches us this. The Bible makes it plain that generally speaking a man reaps what he sows.

The book of Job does not deny this, it simply points out that the connection between sin and suffering or righteousness and blessing is not always easy to see. Life is complex. Things are constantly going on that we are not even aware of. And even though God will ultimately bless the righteous, or those putting their faith in Christ, that does not mean that blessing is to be always expected by Christians in this life. Thus, the friends do not necessarily believe heresy. They simply fail in their application of this principle to Job. Their understanding is too simple, too neat, too tidy. It is not big enough for the sovereign God of the universe as He reveals Himself in Scripture.

A second theme is that Job maintains his innocence and continually looks to God for answers. If you want to see a man struggling, then read the speeches of Job. His words are honest and raw. He is all over the place. He longs for death (ch. 3), asks to appear before God, hopes in Godís final redemption (ch. 19), and questions Godís justice (ch. 31). He is up one minute and down the next. He knows that God is sovereign over his suffering. Look at 16:7, 11-14. He does not doubt Godís control over his situation. He does not take the modern way out of simply doubting the extent of Godís sovereignty. Yet, he cannot make sense of His suffering. And this is the real struggle for Job. Not only has he lost all of his possessions, all of his children, all of his relationships (wife and friends included), but Job feels as if he has lost his God. He believes in God. He believes in His power and His goodness. But he cannot find Him amidst his experience of suffering. His beliefs about God are being refined in the fires of his trials. And it hurts. It drives him to the end of himself crying: Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!). 

Question:

So then, in light of what we see in these speeches, let me put this question before you: do you trust God when the righteous suffer, or when suffering seems unjust? Let me address two areas of our lives that I believe this question impacts.

First, do you trust God when suffering seems unjust in your own life? I donít think we realize it, but too often we fall back into mechanical responses that sound a whole lot like Jobís friends. We reason: ĎWell I must have done something really wrong to deserve this.í We look at our circumstances and figure that God is just punishing us. Now, donít get me wrong, we do have to face consequences for our sins, a man does reap what he sows. But we must avoid misapplying that principle. We must not think that each trial is tied directly to some sin in our past (retribution). The book of Job teaches us that that is not always the case. Sometimes our mechanical response reasons like this: ĎThis suffering must mean that God does not love me, or that He is not sovereign or good.í It is different than what we see in the book of Job but it is a similar idea. We make connections (Ďsuffering means God does not love meí) that are simply not true (just like the friends).

Or sometimes the mechanical response goes in another direction and reasons: ĎI donít care how much I am hurting, I will just grin and bear it.í We donít want people to know that we are struggling, so we hide. I am so thankful that the biblical authors did not take this approach. Psalm 73 was written by a man struggling with the prosperity of the wicked. Job is a man struggling with the suffering of the righteous. And their struggles are real. They are hurting and they are honest about it. In one sense all of these mechanical responses to suffering result from a low view of God. Connecting all suffering with sin limits Godís freedom and sovereignty. So does thinking that God cannot love us and allow suffering at the same time. Trying to run from our hurt assumes that God is not big enough for our questions and our pain. Thus, we need to see our God for who He really is. We need to believe all that the Bible says about Him so that we can avoid these mechanical responses to our personal suffering.

Second, what about your ministry to others? Do you try to comfort others with some of these mechanical responses? I fear that we are too often like Jobís friends. We have good intentions, we even believe right things about God, but our application of the truth is poor and misguided. So then, how can we avoid being such miserable comforters? First, begin with presence (and silence). Just be there for people. Donít feel like you have to come up with the right thing to say. The time for talking will come, but begin by just supporting them through your presence with them. Second, let them be honest in their grief. I struggle here. I want to help people, fix people. But that is not always needed. Granted, there are times when people can wander too far in their grief and we must step in with the truth. But even then, we do it with as much gentleness as we can. Third, we do our best to follow through. We continue to call. We continue to pray. We continue to suffer and hurt with them. Of course, more can be said about how we support others in their suffering, but even these simple lessons from the book of Job are a good start.

The book of Job is teaching us the importance of trusting and treasuring God in the midst of terrible suffering. It is teaching us how to suffer well. Suffering well does not mean ignoring suffering or pretending like we are not hurting, no suffering well means we never lose sight of the gospel even on the darkest of days. It means crying out to God in our darkest hour, just as Jesus did as he suffered in our place on the cross. It means having hope even in the face of death because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. It means holding fast to our Savior, who is the righteous sufferer since He paid for our sins and not His own at Calvary. As we labor to glorify God in our suffering and encourage others in doing the same, may we look and point to Christ. May we trust and treasure Him more than anything else in this life. May we say with greater understanding than Job: I know that my Redeemer lives. Amen.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 15 May 2011 )

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