The Anguish of Job – Meditation 11
Job 4:7 Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?
Eliphaz opened with an apparent care and concern for Job but then gradually his own agenda or his own way of thinking seeped out in condemnation. His first shot, as we saw in the previous meditation, was to challenge Job on his past behaviour and subtly question whether his outlook and apparent behaviour matched reality. Job didn’t need challenging, he needed accepting. Now Eliphaz moves more fully into his doctrine: sin brings the judgement of God and innocent people don’t suffer. It is a doctrine that many of us hold consciously or sub-consciously. The problem with it is that it is based on a large half-truth.
For instance, the Old Testament is full of instructions in the Law, some of which clearly indicate that blessing follows obedience and curses follow disobedience (see Deut 11:26-28). Now before we go any further, let us clarify that this applies to conscious behaviour. Without a doubt it DOES operate. Paul was to say, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7,8). Eliphaz puts it, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (v.8) More than that, it’s not just a mechanical, “one-thing-flowing-from-another”, it is by the hand of God: “At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish.” (v.9).
His doctrine is clearly that God brings judgment on those who bring evil to His world. The tricky bit about this, is that he implies therefore, that the corollary of this is that anyone who is suffering must have sinned and be evil. That IS the logic of this package! Indeed he gives an illustration that no one is exempt: “The lions may roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken. The lion perishes for lack of prey, and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.” (v.10,11) What he is saying is that even the greatest of the animals is subject to being dealt with. When the lion’s teeth break and he’s toothless, then he cannot carry on providing food for his family and they are scattered. He’s easily brought down.
That’s got to be a parallel in Eliphaz’s mind to what has happened to Job, except the only problem is that that wasn’t how it had happened. Job’s misfortunes didn’t happen because of Job being brought down first by God. Job’s afflictions came after everything else had been taken away. In Eliphaz’s mind sin and then judgment are linked and, therefore, so are the reverse – judgment and then sin – but this fails to distinguish, first of all, between judgment and discipline. Judgment is punishment that is linked to specific sin and tends to bring an end to life. Discipline is something brought to train, to bring about change, so that a life may continue but more righteously. Discipline is a very real subject in the Scriptures (see Prov 1,7, 3:11 & Heb 12:5-11). So we have judgment and we have discipline and they are different, but is that all there is?
No, because what we have seen happening in chapters 1 and 2, fits neither of those descriptions. There we saw Job declared righteous (see 1:1,8,22, 2:3,10), well if not righteous, “blameless and upright” which is very similar. James nudges us to think along another line: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:2,3) A trial or a test isn’t quite the same as discipline. Discipline works to create a change in us and although trials and tests tend to do the same, the primary objective of a test (in God’s kingdom at least) is to get you to pass, to prove your faith. In that sense it seems that what Job is going through is more like a test than anything else. It is NOT judgment and it is not, therefore linked with sin, which is what Eliphaz thinks.
There is also another factor that Eliphaz doesn’t seem to take into account in his equation, that of Satan. The big difference between trials or tests and temptations is that God brings the trials but Satan brings the temptation (Jas 1:13 ). The trial that God brings is aimed to get you to overcome and release life, but the temptation that Satan brings is designed to make you fall and be destroyed. Satan is out to get Job and to get him to fail. He is out to destroy Job one way or another. The Lord permits Satan to do that, for it to act as a trial that Job is going to triumph in.
But when we look at life more widely, we realise that there is even more to it than what we’ve considered so far. There is also the sin of other people, and because God hesitates to overcome the free will of mankind, He has to allow men to sin, and we saw that sin as raiders came and took Job’s possessions. Many people in the world, living under repressive governments, are suffering as the result of human sin. This is not because God is judging them or disciplining them or even testing them; it is just the sin of human mankind being expressed. Good people still get mugged! Good people, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, suffer at the hands of the sin of others.
Similarly, we see effects of sin causing sickness or illness or failure of life. When God made the world originally, it was “very good” (Gen 1:31 ) but with the arrival of sin, the world started breaking down, men did not live so long and hardship was experienced. Innocent babies die in the womb, die at birth, or die in their early years of life. It may be that food additives or radiation will be shown to be causes of allergies and cancers, but there is always the perennial question when it strikes, “Why me?” for it strikes Christians as well as non-Christians. Some of these are questions we will never be able to answer this side of heaven, and who, without the specific revelation, could have guessed what had gone in heaven in chapters 1 and 2?
No, it is naïve to suggest that all suffering is judgment or discipline. Some of it certainly may be so, but we cannot make a general doctrine of it. Jesus himself, giving a general warning to put your lives right with God declared that we should all do that, not because of individual sufferings but simply because we should: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem ? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:1-5) Let’s not try to live on quick-fix doctrines like Eliphaz; they are usually wrong!