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Job 32-37: Do You Trust God When His Lessons Are Hard? Print E-mail
Job
Sunday, 15 May 2011

The story of Eustace becoming a dragon is one of my favorite tales in the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series. Eustace is one of those characters that everyone else does not like. He is selfish and childish and not very adventuresome. Thus, he becomes (like all characters like him should) a dragon. He remains so for six days. As everyone else tries to figure out what to do with him, he begins to see things in a new way and his character begins to change. One night, Aslan, the Lion, who is the God-character in the series, appears to Eustace. He tells him to ‘undress’ and so Eustace begins to claw off his dragon skin. Yet, every time he removes his skin it simply grows back. Then Eustace tells the story of how Aslan intervenes: “Then the Lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty near desperate now…The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”1  From this point on in the story, the character of Eustace transforms. He is no longer as selfish and unliked by the other characters. Even though it was painful, his becoming a dragon and then a boy again served the purpose of refining his character.

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Up to this point in the book of Job, the only purpose for suffering identified has been to punish the wicked.  Thus, Job’s friends spent their time trying to convince Job that he was guilty while Job repeatedly maintained his innocence.  All of this comes to a climax with Job’s final claim of innocence in chapter 31.  At this point we expect Yahweh to speak and explain the situation and why Job has suffered.  Yet, that is not what happens.  Yahweh will speak when He so chooses and He will say what He chooses to say (which we will look at next week).  While Job and the three friends are waiting for God to speak, another speaker is introduced: Elihu.  To be honest, it is hard to know what to do with his speeches.  Some dismiss them as nothing more than a repetition of the arguments of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  Some view them in a much more positive light.  The consensus of the commentaries I read was more of a middle road approach.  Although Elihu does sound very similar to the three friends at points, he also adds a significant contribution to the argument and prepares us for what God will say to Job.  He helps us identify another purpose in suffering besides just punishment.  So then, let’s begin with an overview of the passage and then consider our question for the text.

Passage Overview:

Elihu is introduced in 32:1-5.  Look at those verses with me.  We learn a couple of noteworthy ideas about Elihu.  First, and we will see this more in his speeches, we learn that Elihu is young.  He has not spoken yet because he was listening to those older than him.  He only speaks after they have nothing else to say.  Second, we learn that Elihu was angry.  We are told four times in these verses of Elihu’s anger.  He is angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God and he is angry with the others because they had found no answer.  Thus, Elihu speaks to correct and warn Job, while at the same time seeking to give an answer to why he has suffered.  In order to do this he delivers four speeches to Job.

The first speech is found in 32:6-33:33.  After a lengthy introduction (32:6-22), Elihu addresses Job specifically.  He tells Job that God sometimes uses suffering to humble a man and keep him from sin.  Look at 33:14-20.  God speaks to a man through visions and through suffering.  He does this to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life (v. 30).  Elihu is arguing that suffering is not always a punishment for sin but sometimes a preventative measure.  God uses suffering to instruct us and teach us so that we will not continue in sin.  While Job has been wondering at the silence of God, Elihu points out that God has been speaking to Job through his suffering and he encourages Job to listen.  If Elihu’s speeches ended here, we would surely agree that what he says is positive and helpful.  Yet, he continues on to his second speech in chapter 34.  In this speech he returns to the idea of retribution, or that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous.  We see him voicing his anger at Job for maintaining his innocence.  We also see his anger at the friends for not giving an answer.  Yet, what he says here is so similar to what they said. 

Look at 34:10-12.  The only difference between his understanding of Job’s situation and the friends is that instead of looking to some past sin as the explanation for Job’s sin, Elihu points at Job’s claim to be innocent and calls that pride.  We see this even more in the third speech in chapter 35.  God does not hear Job’s cry because of his pride.  Look at 35:12-14.  Job’s arrogance explains his extended suffering according to Elihu.  In his final speech in chapters 36-37, Elihu returns to the idea that God uses suffering to humble men.  Look at 36:6-11, 15.  God uses suffering to teach men of their sins and if they repent He will bless them.  If they do not, then they will be punished.  Although retribution is still a part of his answer to Job, his understanding is more nuanced than the friends since he acknowledges that sometimes even the righteous suffer.  He ends his speeches with a long section on God’s greatness and power as demonstrated in a thunderstorm.  Look at his conclusion in 37:23-24.  Just like Job’s hymn to wisdom in chapter 28, Elihu agrees that wisdom begins with fearing God.

Question:

So then, Elihu teaches us that God uses suffering in a man’s life to humble him and teach him and transform his character.  Such teaching leads us to this question this morning: do you trust God when His lessons are hard?  Do you trust God when He uses suffering in your life to instruct you?  Of course, before we answer, we should consider whether or not this teaching of Elihu is in agreement with the rest of the Scripture’s teaching on suffering.  In other words we must first ask: does God really use suffering to humble us and teach us?

He did in the life of Paul.  Paul tells the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was given a vision of heaven.  It was a privilege for Paul to experience what he did.  Yet, he goes on to note that God used suffering in his life to keep him from becoming arrogant.  Look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  Paul was given a thorn in his side to keep him humble.  And make no mistake, it was not enjoyable for Paul.  He asked the Lord three times to take it away.  Yet, he received a word from the Lord: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  God was teaching Paul of His sufficient grace through Paul’s suffering.  And since Paul treasured the Lord and his relationship with Him he was content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  That is a lot to be content with.  But Paul can do it (and so can we) for the sake of Christ.  Again I would caution us against going too far with this and working backwards like Elihu did.  When we face suffering (or someone else we know does) we do not have to immediately conclude that they are arrogant and need humbling.  God can be using suffering to teach us different lessons.  Many times he uses it to humble us, so that we would depend more upon Him in our lives.

So then, if God does uses suffering in our lives to humble us and teach us, then let me return to the question we asked earlier: do you trust God when His lessons are hard?  If not, or if you struggle with this (as I think most of us do), then let me encourage you with a couple of ideas.  First, as believers in Christ we must remember what God’s doing in our lives, namely He is conforming us into the image of His Son.  The Bible tells us that even though we were made in God’s image that image has been marred by the Fall.  Our sin and rebellion has transformed that image until it is almost beyond recognition.  Yet, God has sent us Christ so that we can turn from our sins and trust in His sacrifice for them on the cross.  When we repent and believe in Christ, the image of God begins to be restored in our lives.  We are forgiven of our sins and given the gift of the Holy Spirit so that slowly through our lives we can become more and more like Christ.  If you are a believer here this morning, then that is what God is doing in your life.  He is making you more like Christ.  He is transforming your character into the character of His Son. 

Yet, we must realize that this transformation involves suffering.  Our selfishness and self-dependence runs so deep that God often uses suffering to humble us.  He uses it to break through our pride and draw us to Himself.  Just listen to how some of the New Testament writers describe this.  Look at Romans 5:3-5.  Paul tells us that suffering leads to endurance, character, and hope, thus, we can rejoice in it.  Look at James 1:2-4.  James tells us that the various trials that we face are making us complete.  One more, look at 1 Peter 2:20-25.  Peter tells us that when we suffer we are following the example of our Savior, we are becoming like Him.  So then, the New Testament makes it clear that God uses suffering in our life to make us more like Christ.  It humbles us and causes us to depend upon God more and more.  And make no mistake about it, the suffering that God uses is painful.  Sometimes it cuts us straight to the heart (like Aslan did with Eustace).  It leaves us reeling and questioning and hurting (just like Job).  It is not easy. 

So then, how do we endure?  Like Job and Paul, we must treasure God and our relationship with Him more than anything else.  We must know before the trial ever begins that being conformed into the image of Christ is what we want for our lives and the lives of those we love.  We must see the ugliness of our selfishness and pride and recognize just how deep it runs.  We must value being mature and complete in Christ.  As we noted last week, when you are facing difficult suffering it is hard to hear these truths from others.  You might not receive it well when Elihu (or your pastor or your friends or anyone else) comes to you in your dark hour and says: ‘Don’t worry, God is just making you more humble.’  This is why we need to understand these truths now.  We must labor even this morning to settle it deep in our hearts that more than anything else in this life we want to be made like Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him forever.  And the cross compels us.  When we catch a true glimpse of what Christ did for us there, then everything else in this life pales in comparison to Him.  He becomes our treasure.  He becomes what we want others to treasure, for their good and His glory.  And if it takes suffering to make us more like Him, then we can learn with James to count it all joy, even when the lessons are hard.  Amen.

1 C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: HarperTrophy, 1994), p. 115-16.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 May 2011 )

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