Monday, September 30, 2019

Job's "Comforters"

"Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?"(Job. 4:7).

Job’s three friends came to sit with him in his troubles. Initially, they showed great sensitivity to his plight, for they sat silently for seven days, recognizing that no words were adequate and sharing in his grief. After Job spoke up and cursed his birthday (Job 3), however, the friends began trying to help Job understand his situation.

In his first speech (Job 4–5), Eliphaz the Temanite told Job that he should remember the pious advice he had given others in the past (4:1–6). He told Job that suffering is always the result of some specific sin or sinful tendency (4:7–11). He said that he had received a vision to this effect (4:12–21). He said that Job’s protestations of innocence sounded like the words of a fool (5:1–7). He told Job that the solution was to repent and turn to God (5:8–16). If Job did repent, he would find that God’s chastisements were but blessings in disguise and that afterward, God would restore to him what He took away (5:17–27).

We have to be careful when reading the speeches of Job’s comforters because much of what the friends said is objectively correct but misapplied in the case of Job. The gist of their remarks is this: God does not punish people for nothing. Job must have done something to bring these disasters upon himself.

It is certainly true that we reap what we sow, eventually. It is true that God sometimes visits us with pain and chastisement in order to drive us back to Himself. It is also true, however, that some suffering is sent for the benefit of other people’s growth, or even simply for the glory of God in mysterious ways that we won’t understand until He tells us (John 9).

Job’s friends intended to be kind, but in fact, they were cruel. As Job resisted what they said, they became more assertive and insensitive. Job’s refusal to own up to some great sin was a thorn in the side of their neat moralistic theology. If Job was right and God was not afflicting him for some particular sins, then their theology and philosophy were wrong, and they would have to change. That was something they didn’t want to do, so they strove to get Job to conform to their ideas about him.

Read Job 4–5 twice. Read the first time and notice that in the abstract what Eliphaz says is correct and even insightful. Then re-read the chapters as if you were Job, and notice how everything becomes wrong and painful. Learn from this to be careful of cheap pious advice to people in pain.