“Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple. I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed. His children are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender. The hungry consume his harvest, taking it even from among thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth. For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
– Job 5:1-7
Then Bildad the Shuhite replied: “How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.
– Job 8:1-7
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: “Are all these words to go unanswered? Is this talker to be vindicated? Will your idle talk reduce others to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
– Job 11:1-3
“To truly grasp the prescience and timelessness of the book, consider the arguments of Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar in light of contemporary thinking. Does God send suffering as punishment for sins? Ask any hospitalized Christian whether he or she has heard that suggestion. The most vigorous assertion of Job’s friends – that God makes good men prosper and evil men stumble – I hear virtually every time I watch religious television. Those programs say little about Job’s kind of faith, which perseveres even when nothing works out the way it should. Christians today may also claim a ‘word of knowledge’ to back up their beliefs, as did Eliphaz. He appeals to a cryptic vision of a ‘spirit’ who restates Eliphaz’s own line of argument and even implies that Job should turn to God for a miracle (4:12-17, 5:8-10).
“In short, Job’s friends emerge as self-righteous dogmatists who defend the mysterious ways of God. Confident of their proper doctrine and sound arguments, they cast judgment on Job. …
“A modern-day bumper sticker succinctly captures their condescending tone: ‘If you feel far from God, guess who moved.”
– Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read
The first Scripture is from the Eliphaz speech, between the two references that Yancey provides regarding Eliphaz’ divine vision and Job’s need to beg for a miracle.
Let’s take inventory of these three passages. Eliphaz calls Job a fool. Bildad bluntly calls all this a result of sin. And Zophar rebukes Job for wanting to silence them and claims Job mocks them.
I am reminded of the story of the missionary couple who go to the edge of the wilderness to witness to the people. The wife gets deathly ill. She is horribly constipated. The doctor tries every kind of known medicine with no good result. He gives her an enema, then another, then another. Suddenly the door flies open. The local witch doctor stops the treatment. He pulls out some shoots from a palm tree, grinds them, mixes them with a local fruit juice, and has the woman drink it. Within an hour, her bowels are moving. Her fever has broken, and she is up singing, and preparing a meal for all her friends. The medical doctor is about to speak, but the witch doctor puts up a hand. The witch doctor says, “With fronds like these, who needs enemas?”
Sorry, I couldn’t resist, but I am sure Job was thinking the same thing.
In an old episode of The Big Bang Theory, Leonard had a problem and so states to his friends as they sat in the faculty lounge. Sheldon then says that Leonard’s statement reminded him of something (actually totally unrelated). Raj and Howard join into Sheldon’s conversation. Each gets an epiphany and leaves the table. Leonard, staring at the empty table, says, “I bet I could throw a rock in this room and come up with three better friends!”
Okay, do Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have any leg to stand on? Of course. In Genesis 3:17-19, God proclaims a curse on Adam and all mankind. Because of sin, the world is broken. Our labor will be hard. It will be painful to just put food on the table.
While God sent his son to save us from our sins, God has not yet fixed the world. Whether God fixes this old world or creates a new world may be up for debate. The present world still produces thorns in the workplace.
Yet, as a reader of Job, we know his present suffering has nothing to do with Job’s sin. Yes, all have sinned (Romans 3:23), but this is a different story. Yet, countless Christians eliminate Job 1-2 because it’s a bit icky. Then they eliminate most of Job 38-42, because they don’t understand it. Then they finish with the ‘rainbow’ effect. Job is restored. One of his daughters is named Jemima. I call it the ‘Jemima effect’. Yes, there is suffering in this world, but when do I get my Jemima? So many Christians never do in this life. So many of those Christians had friends who kept saying that there was some unrepented sin in the person’s life.
Before we get stuck in that rut. Let’s remember the words of Jesus.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
– John 9:1-5
Even the disciples had read Job without getting the point.
Note that many people think that God’s protective hand was lifted from Job. Really? God gave Satan limitations. When we suffer, it is because we live in a broken world, but God’s hand is still protecting us. I had no doubt of that while passing three kidney stones this month, but the last one gave me an entirely new concept of pain threshold. On my last trip to the ER, the nurse asked what my pain level was on a 1-10 scale. I told her a nine. She asked, “Not a ten?”
I replied, “I’m saving that one for when I can’t take it anymore and just pass out.”
She smiled, winked, and said, “I’ll write it down as a 9 and a half. Okay?”
I replied, “That’s fair.” Yet, the most pain for a kidney stone before this latest one was in 2014. My 8 then would be a 5 now. We think we are at our wit’s end, but God is still in control. He is not going to do us harm. He is not punishing us. And he will not allow Satan to push buttons beyond the limits that God sets.
Can God remove His protective hand from Nations? That is a different story. I grew up hearing that the USA (totally ignoring our allies) won World War I and World War II due to their industrial might, their freedom-loving nature, and their belief in God. The first is getting weak. The second may exist in concept, but few serve to fight for that freedom. And the last? Why would God have His hand of protection on our country now that so many curse His name? Our moral compass is gone.
Genesis 18:16-33 gives an interesting argument between Abraham and God. Abraham is pleading to save Sodom and Gomorrah. If only … God never lifts His hand completely. There are among the apostate a remnant of God’s chosen people.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.