Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bible In a Year - Job 6 to 9 (#5)

Insensitive: How Eliphaz Got It Wrong
[Job 6.] Some of us have read Job before, and we know how it ends: God tells Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that they have spoken wrongly of Him while Job has gotten Him right. That's confusing. These three defend God's integrity and righteousness; Job wonders aloud whether the Lord is a sadistic power-tripping ogre. Something just seems off. We know that Eliphaz (and co.) got Job wrong, but how could they have misrepresented God? And -are you kidding me- Job is actually right? Didn't he get owned by Yahweh from a whirlwind for trying to "condemn [God] that [Job] may be justified?" Obviously Job said some wrong things about God. Here is what the great commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) had to say about this passage:
"God tells them plainly that they had not spoken of him the thing that was right, like Job, that is, they had censured and condemned Job upon a false hypothesis, had represented God fighting against Job as an enemy when really he was only trying him as a friend, and this was not right. Those do not say well of God who represent his fatherly chastisements of his own children as judicial punishments and who cut them off from his favour upon the account of them. Note, It is a dangerous thing to judge uncharitably of the spiritual and eternal state of others, for in so doing we may perhaps condemn those whom God has accepted, which is a great provocation to him; it is offending his little ones, and he takes himself to be wronged in all the wrongs that are done to them." -Commentary on the Whole Bible, Job 42.7-9
Here Eliphaz and his buddies get God wrong, not by insisting on His righteousness, but by misrepresenting what He is doing with Job - they keep saying that God is punishing Job for hidden sin, and Job keeps saying that this isn't the case. God is actually "trying him as a friend." Eliphaz' advice is good and his theology is solid (aside from being one of those health-and-wealth types, but so is Job) but he doesn't take the situation and life of his friend into account and so does not take the opportunity to change his mind about some things. As a result he ends up misrepresenting God's providence, therefore misunderstanding God, and slandering Him. On a relationship level, they just leave Job feeling like he's alone: "For a despairing man there should be kindness from his friend."

Existentialism: Clothed With Maggots and Encrusted With Dirt
[Job 7.] Even if you believe that God is good, that He is in control of all things, and that there is a purpose for everything that happens, that doesn't stop the pain when you finally lose everything. In this book, all of Job's children die. He wakes up a billionaire and goes to bed homeless. He is left with a disease that gives him chronic physical pain. Some of what Job says just needs to be let go, because he is only speaking out of his frustration: even he says "Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?" (See Job 6.26.) In certain situations, you just need to be where you are at; King David often poured out his pain to God in frustration and anxiety, even though he knew full well that God has things covered; Jesus wept for
the death of his friend Lazarus even though He knows about paradise and life after death. That is what Job is doing here, and it's healthy. Guidelines? Don't curse God, and don't slander Him. But that doesn't mean you can't pour out your hurt. Job gives us a good example of that.

Providence: A Purpose, But Not A Punishment
[Job 8+9.] Job is a health-and-wealth
guy, who believes that God rewards faithfulness with riches. He also believes in providence, meaning that God is in control over everything ("if it is not He that does it, who is it?" - Job 8.24). This means that -like any good Calvinist- Job and his friends see something happening and ask "what is God's purpose in this?" They just don't know that suffering can be something other than a punishment so they assume that suffering equals hidden sin. I went through a rough patch like this maybe a year ago. I was holding about three jobs at once, and about a week after I picked up a new line of work everyone's hours would inevitably get cut in half or the business would die down (and in furniture moving and funeral work, which is what I did, business dictates how much you can expect to make). I wasn't a bad worker - my bosses kept telling me that I was doing a great job and I was even in line to become management at one store I where I worked. But God just wasn't blessing anything that I was doing. I tried for about five months to figure out what I had done wrong (like Job, I found lots of little sins, but nothing especially bad) or understand where I was ignoring His will for my life, but no success there either. I believe that God has a purpose for everything. I believe in providence. So while I am not into the prosperity Gospel, I still take suffering as a chance to look at myself and see whether I am in sin. But Job teaches me something about providence & suffering: misfortune doesn't have to mean punishment from God. It could just be a time of testing and a chance to persevere. What do you guys think about that? Any push back?

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