WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?
*It's a rainy Thursday morning here in Madison, West Virginia, but it's still a beautiful day and a day that the Lord has made. I hope you are doing well. Today, we continue our look at the Book of Job. If you remember from yesterday the Lord gave Satan permission to attack the person of Job. The only restriction: Satan couldn't kill Job. Job's wife encouraged Job to "curse God and die," but Job remained upright and just throughout. Then, his friends showed up, mourned over him, then sat silently with him.
"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: 'May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, 'A boy is born!'" (Job 3:1-3) The majority of the book of Job is made up of dialogue, and much of that is poetic dialogue. This book could easily be made into a play, because of the way it is written. To the friend's credit Job is the one who initiates conversation. They had been silent the entire time. Remember from yesterday that I said that silence is sometimes the best when it comes to someone grieving. Oh, that doesn't mean that we are not there for the person, it just means that we rely on our physical presence to do what our words sometimes fail to do. Job finally speaks and when he does it is nothing short of a pity party. No, he does not curse God, but wishes that he were never born. From here the friends begin their attempt to make sense of what is happening to their friend. From this point we will cover a lot of ground. We have to in order to make sense of the remainder of the book. Again, it is made up of dialogue, mostly between Job and his friends. The first friend to offer his "theological insight" on the reason for Job's suffering is his good buddy, Eliphaz.
"Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish." (Job: 4:7-9)
What is Eliphaz's take on Job's suffering? Sin is universal. He observes that no one is completely sinless: "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his maker?" (Job 4:17) Eliphaz basically tells Job that everyone can expect at least a little suffering in life. Eliphaz tries to comfort Job by assuring him that his suffering won't last forever. He even tries to use some Bible to help out. (Not really, but his wording comes across like someone quoting Bible passages) He says to Job: "Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17) There now, Job! How does that make you feel? Better, right?
The next fiend, Bildad, adds his "two cents" and basically concludes that Job's children were the cause of it all. They had to have sinned to be treated so brutally by God. "When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin." (Job 8:4) Bildad concludes that their death was justified. However, he informs Job that there is still hope for him. Since he is still alive, he must not have been that bad of a sinner. Like a good evangelist at a revival he looks Job in the eye, and gives him an altar call: "If you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place." (Job 8:6) Oh...there's still hope Job.
The third friend, Zophar, has heard enough. He can't stand it anymore. He knows what the problem is and he informs Job that the reason this has happened to him is because Job has sinned; not his children, not his wife, but good 'ole Job himself. "You say to God, 'My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight. Oh how I wish that God would speak, and open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom, for true wisdom has two sides. Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin." (Job 11:5-6) Zophar is basically saying: "Stop with the holier than thou attitude and confess your sin."
Each of the three friends have their own theory as to why bad things are happening to Job. Each theory, however, regardless of the reasoning is part of a concept known as retribution theology. Retribution theology maintains that God punishes the wicked for their evil deeds and rewards the righteous with a long life and prosperity. Of course, the reader of the book knows that Job has done nothing wrong. Eventually, each friend, regardless on their understanding of the situation, "gangs up" on poor 'ole Job. After a brief testimony by Job as to his faith in the living redeemer who will be his advocate and end his estrangement from God, Eliphaz responds: "Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind?" (Job 15:2) Eliphaz is accusing Job of simply "blowing hot air" just as the east wind blows across the Eastern Desert. Then, in chapter twenty-two Eliphaz accuses Job of specific injustice, such as oppressing the poor, the widows and the orphans. (Job 22:6-11) Wow! Each friend has "taken off their gloves."
So many times we find ourselves in situations such as this; either in Job's shows or as a friend. We often feel we have to offer insight as to why things are the way they are. We find it very difficult to understand that, more often than not, we really just don't always know what is going on. Oh how often have situations only been made worse because of things that were said. As far as retribution theology, perhaps there has never been a better (for lack of wording) example than Hurricane Katrina. There were many (led by certain TV evangelists) who believed that the hurricane was brought on by the lifestyles of the people. I even heard it said, that the reason the hurricane hit New Orleans was because there was going to be a homosexual convention in the city. Really? Were there not these types of events in other cities? Why not Disney World, which hosts certain events throughout the year? And, I wonder...How many of the poor people who died even knew that these events were happening? If we say, God did this because...then how do we respond to parents who lose their baby at birth? Or in an automobile accident? Are we saying that they deserved it? I remember going with my uncle to visit an old friend of his, whom I knew well. The friend that we were gong to visit was a born-again Christian. My uncle, who lived away, was not aware of this. (He remembered him from another time when he was not a Christian) My uncle was not a Christian and used language that "would make a sailor blush." As they were talking my uncle (actually Great-Uncle) began using very "colorful" wording. Eventually, his old friend informed him that he could not tolerate that kind of language and kindly explained why. He witnessed to his faith and my great-uncle toned it down. This man lived a life that was a positive witness to everyone around him. Imagine this man opening the door of his home to a Missouri State Trooper who broke the news to him that there had been an accident. His nineteen-year old daughter had been killed. I know for a fact that this man has wondered for thirty-four years "why." Was it because he did something to deserve this? Did his daughter sin? Or was it because she overcorrected and overturned?
We have a lot more ground to cover in this discussion. Tomorrow, we will continue by looking at Job's response to his friends, and his response to God. We will also meet a fourth friend who will offer a whole different perspective. This is a very important study. I hope you can continue to join me. Have a great day! -Pastor Rick