Holding on to Your Faith in the Midst of Suffering: Job

Part 2

The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

Let’s open our Bibles to Job 1. I think we need to see the pair of pairs with regard to the word of permission given to Satan, and then the word of affirmation from Job that it wasn’t ultimately Satan who was in charge. So let’s get those two pairs before us.

God Gives and Takes Away

Job 1:12 says, “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand.’” Then he loses all of his cattle and animals and he loses his ten children. And the key verses are verses 21–22: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” So though Satan was given the power and Satan was an intervening cause, Job says the Lord took away. And then the writer, who is inspired, said in verse 22, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” That’s the first pair.

Now the second pair is to notice in Job 2:6: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.’” And verse 7 makes it crystal clear: “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores.” But the right interpretation of the ultimate cause is given in verse 10 at the end: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” So behind the sores in the hand of Satan was a sovereign God who was ordaining this for Job. And then the writer comments again, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

So the point should be clear that yes, there is a Satan; and yes, there’s a war; and yes, there are secondary causes; and yes, we should resist him and hate him and fight against him. But when the day is done, we bow and we say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” And we say, “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and shall we not receive calamity? Hard times? God’s designs are triumphant.”

Evangelism and the Book of Job

Now let me also say another word by way of introduction to this second session. Neil Sellers last night stated the purpose of this place, that we’re here to equip people to lead others to Christ. So I reflected on that in relation to the book of Job. How does the book of Job do that? And I thought of three ways that I want to highlight, so you’ll be able to see what we’re doing here in relation to the reason this place exists.

Start by asking yourself what winning people to Christ means, because we sling around phrases like that and we don’t stop and reflect on them enough. Evangelism is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. And until that’s plain, you will not know what you’re winning them to. When I was a junior in college, I didn’t have this figured out yet and my evangelism aborted because I hit a wall by saying “win them, to win them, to win them, to win them, to win them,” and all I kept doing is recruiting recruiters to get recruiters to get recruiters, and that’s a bad way to think about evangelism. “I’m recruiting you to be a recruiter of others, to recruit others, and somebody is finally going to raise their hand and say, “Is there a point? Does it have an end place beyond recruitment? Is there a reason to gather anybody?”

The answer is: God is the reason. He is worthy, he’s beautiful, he’s glorious, he’s satisfying. And our response to that is worship and delight and joy and obedience and trust and that’s the end of evangelism. Evangelism is a temporary stopgap, a necessary fill-in measure until that happens. Evangelism or missions exists because worship doesn’t. Now if that’s a new sentence to you, you haven’t read my green book. I hear that sentence quoted all over the country. People close the book after the first sentence and start preaching sermons. And that’s fine. Because that’s the point of the book: Missions exists because worship doesn’t.

So that’s preliminary to the three points I’m about to make about how this fits in to Job: you’ve got to know what evangelism is for: It’s getting worshipers for Jesus. It’s getting people changed so that they value Jesus more than what they were valuing. Now we’re starting to hear a little bit of Job in here. So how does Job fit in?

  1. You can’t witness if you don’t stay a believer in the midst of suffering. Only believers witness; only believers lead people to Christ. You can’t lead anybody to Christ if you give up on God because he dealt you a hard hand yesterday. If you come out of yesterday bitter against God, you’re not going to lead anybody to Jesus. Therefore, Job is there to put a foundation under evangelism for the sake of worship. Because if you don’t stay a believer in the midst of suffering, you won’t lead anybody to Jesus.

  2. The cost of missions or evangelism today is high and you will suffer if you do it. If you want to lead people to Christ, if you want to placard Jesus in a hostile culture or go to Sudan and do it, or Saudi Arabia and do it, or Pakistan and do it, India and do it, or China and do it, it’ll cost you and you’ll suffer. And therefore, if we don’t have a theology of suffering, we don’t have a foundation under our feet, and we won’t go. We won’t pay the price of evangelism and missions.

  3. If you don’t value God, if you don’t come to cherish God more than you cherish health and wealth and prosperity, then you won’t be able to commend him to anybody as more valuable than all those things. You need to come to a place where you love God and cherish God and treasure God and delight in God more than you delight in anything else, and then you will be authentic when you say to somebody, “May I commend to you my Lord?”

All of the Bible is written to help us lead people to Christ because all of the Bible is written for the glory of God. And that’s the point of evangelism.

For the Long Haul

Here’s where we’re going today. We’re going to do 29 chapters today, 29 chapters of bad theology. Why does God inspire 29 chapters of bad theology? And you must have a view of inspiration to understand that when you inspire a dialogue between a fool and a wise man, a lot of the inspired words are going to be false. Is that OK? Can you handle that? Because the point is not the fault in it, it’s the end meaning of the conversation. So Jesus can tell a parable between two people, and one of them is doing a bad thing and one of them is doing a good thing, but the parable makes a true point. But God inspires the whole parable.

So you can write a novel that has a true point or a short story or sermon that’s got some dialogue in it. And parts of the dialogue say dumb things all to make a true point. So there’s 29 chapters of pretty bad theology here. And what I want to do is try to figure out why it’s here. What’s it here for? What’s the point? Why don’t we just jump from chapter 2to 42. The point’s been made for the Book of Job. Now I could quit, go home, and you’d have it, but there’s a lot more here and we need to figure it out.

In your experience and what you’ve seen in life, maybe you’ve hit a crisis and a tragedy, and find remarkably by virtue of the Holy Spirit and his immediate graces to you, that you make it through, and then it starts to drag on and on and on and on. And what you found strength for in the immediate crisis begins to get weak. I’ve seen it over and over again in my people. They get the awful news of cancer or a terrible phone call that someone has died or someone’s in the hospital. And they rise amazingly, for those few days, around that immediate thrust of the awful news. But then a week later, not as many people are calling anymore, and two weeks later, and three weeks later. And then the battle is raging big time as to whether they can hold fast to their faith in the midst of suffering.

There are analogies of this. Women have lifted cars off of their husbands in the midst of crisis and wept like babies at a hangnail a week later. There’s crisis that brings forth from us both natural and supernatural things that are remarkable. Soldiers on the battlefield have had their legs blown off by a landmine, and run on the stumps of their legs to the foxhole, not even knowing what was going on. And then weep and weep at the pain as the surgeon works on them. What can happen in a moment of crisis is phenomenal. There will be grace for your crisis — but then what? As it goes on and on, and the tragedy moves into weeks and months, then what? And that’s what happened for Job. Job did well. Job did well at the beginning, but how long did it last? Any ideas? Let’s go to Job 7:2–3 just to give you a glimpse:

Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
     and like a hired hand who looks for his wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
     and nights of misery are apportioned to me.

This is going to go on for months for Job. And everything in us says, “Look, he passed the test. He passed the test; let’s get to chapter 42. Why months, Lord? Why months?” And many of you feel that. Many of you feel it. James Montgomery Boyce was granted the grace of seven weeks of suffering. And others with liver cancer and other kinds, seven years and longer. There’s no one way to live or die in God’s kingdom. It’s different for everybody. So there’s a lot to learn here evidently. This is not a waste what’s going on here.

Job’s ‘Friends’

So let’s go back now and get these three “friends” introduced. Job’s comforters that called, and we always say it with the kind of cluck of our tongue, but they did well for seven days. They didn’t say a word. Which is a lesson for us in dealing with suffering people. Usually it’s too many words, if you go to visit a suffering person. Usually too many words, especially for those of us who have answers for everything. They don’t want your answers in the moment of pain. The answers are needed, but the timing of an answer is crucial pastorally. And at the moment of crisis, they got it right. So let’s start at verse 11 and just see them get introduced and see how they responded.

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

So let’s do that with people. Sit with them while their suffering is great and don’t preach to them. “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Well those were their shining hours and now comes 29 chapters of too much talk.

Structure of Job

Now there’s an order to these chapters and I’ll just point it out. It does have a significance and I’ll show you a little bit of it. There are three cycles of speeches:

  1. Eliphaz speaks, Job answers; Bildad speaks, Job answers; Zophar speaks, Job answers. That’s cycle one, chapters 4–14.

  2. Cycle two: Eliphaz speaks, Job answers; Bildad speaks, Job answers; Zophar speaks, Job answers. That’s cycle two, chapters 15–21.

  3. Then there’s a third cycle. What’s happening is that the speeches are getting shorter, because these guys are running out of things to say. Eliphaz speaks, Job answers (chapter 22); Bildad speaks, Job answers; Zophar has nothing to say.

There’s a reason for why that cycle breaks at the end; it breaks. Bildad’s last speech is six verses long and Zophar has no more to say. And Job gets the last word. Then comes a young man named Elihu in chapters 32–37. And he speaks and then the Lord speaks 39–41. The Lord settles the matter, and then you get a closing chapter of the reversal, finally, in the restoration of his blessing. So that’s the order of the book: these 29 chapters, three cycles of speeches between Job and his three friends. And the question now is: Why all these speeches? Why all this talk? Let’s walk through it. I think we can do this in the time we have.

First Cycle of Dialogue

Chapter 3 is the explosion of Job’s pent-up frustration with God’s drawing out this suffering longer than he had hoped. And he finally just gives in and curses the day he was born: “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said, “Let the day perish on which I was born” (Job 3:1–3). Then 3:11–12 says, ““Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?” Then 3:20–21 “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.”

So Job can’t see any reason for this. It’s dragging on. And he says, “Look, if it’s like this, if this is the way life is going to be, there was no reason for me to be born except to be tormented. I’m not getting it.” And his faith is beginning to waiver here, but not give up. And they do not like, these friends; they do not like what Job was saying. And here they’re losing their pastoral sense of timing. They’re very upset with Job and they begin to respond gently with their theology and then they become brutal with their theology, as Job keeps protesting. So let’s watch them as they go. There’s a principle of justice that’s going to emerge here that they’re going to assert over and over and over again until they can assert it no more. And we need to see what that is. Let’s go to chapter 4:7–8 and we’ll see it there.

Eliphaz

In chapter 4:7 Eliphaz is speaking: “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” So there’s the principal. Trouble comes because of sin, and prosperity, by implication, comes because of righteousness. Now Eliphaz states the principle: pain is a correlation to sin. Now he’s not insensitive to a few other realities. First, we’re all sinners. Chapter 4:17 says, “Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” Now that’s a question that expects the answer no. So Eliphaz knows we’re all sinners, however he does hold to the principle that extraordinary sin will bring extraordinary suffering. However, he has another softening point in his theology, and it’s also true — namely, that some suffering is chastisement for the good of God’s people. I see that in Job 5:17: “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

So, in a sense, you can hardly fault the theology of Eliphaz here. There is real sin because of suffering and there is real chastening for our good, and we all do sin. And so you can’t always correlate sin and suffering perfectly. So Eliphaz’s first speech is not harsh; it’s got some balance to it. But when he comes to application to Job, he proves himself to be insensitive and superficial. Those are my two problems with Eliphaz as he begins: insensitive and superficial. Let’s look at why I say that. Here’s the impatient part: Job 4:5 says, “But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed.” He’s criticizing Job because Job cries out because he wished he couldn’t be born.

Now it’s been some time. Some time has elapsed here. At least seven days, and probably longer has elapsed. And Job blurts out some words: “Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” (Job 6:26). But this is so important in a church. This is important for pastors, this important for husbands and wives, and parents. In life, both in pain and other times, usually it comes to anger. Words are spoken that you should let be words for the wind. Let the wind blow them away. Don’t write them down. Don’t bring them back up. Let them go. That was spoken. She didn’t mean that. Don’t hold her to that. The kid didn’t mean it. He loves you. It was a word for the wind. Let it go. If you can’t let words go in a church, you’re going to die in a church. Many words are spoken in a church that should be blown away by the soonest wind that comes along. Nobody writes them down. Nobody keeps an account. If you keep an account of word wrongs in your ministry or your life, you will become one embittered, small, angry person doing nobody any good. Oh, that God would bless us with forgetfulness about many words spoken about us, and about our ministry, and about our spouses, about our children — words for the wind.

And I think Eliphaz doesn’t understand that. Eliphaz is upset and he says, “Now it is come to you and you’re impatient.” Because he just heard these words in chapter three about, “I wish I weren’t born.” I think they should have said, “Let’s give him a few days to think about that. Or a few months maybe.” You don’t need to start preaching to this guy because he blurted out some “wish I hadn’t been born” sentence.

Eliphaz said in 5:8, “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause.” Now that’s what I regard as the insinuation of superficiality. “If I were in your shoes, I would commit my cause to God.” Look at chapter 5:18–19: For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you.” It’s going to turn around. But he’s criticizing him that he doesn’t embrace this, and I think he’s doing it too simply, too quickly, too superficially. That’s my problem with Eliphaz in his first speech.

Job protests his innocence. Job 6:10 says, “I have not denied the words of the Holy One.” Now would you say this is coming because of sin? Eliphaz, I haven’t denied his words. He’s still the Holy one in my life.” Job 6:24 says, “Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray” (Job 6:24). He’s protesting. He’s saying, “OK, you’ve got this principle of justice that says this suffering correlates with big sin. Show me where I’ve sinned. Show me where I’ve erred.” So that’s his response to Eliphaz.

Bildad

Now let’s let Bildad say the principal. He’s less gentle than Eliphaz and it’s going to get less gentle as we go along. We’re in chapter 8:3–4. This is Bildad talking: Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” Now watch what he does. This really hurts. This really hurts because he’s going to talk about his children. They’re dead. “If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.” So here he takes this principle and he applies it with such pastoral cruelty to a man who’s suffering, when you don’t know what those kids were experiencing; you don’t know. He doesn’t know what the situation was. He doesn’t understand the freedom and sovereignty of God. And so he takes this little principle of “big sin, big suffering; big righteousness, big prosperity,” and applies it to these ten kids, to the dad who is suffering, and he says, “They committed some huge transgression. That’s why this house fell on them.”

And then he applies it to Job in 8:5–6: “If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.” In other words, “The reason this is dragging all the way it is, is because there’s some hidden sin in your life, Job. If you would just repent the way you ought to repent, God would rise up and deliver you.”

Now Job is getting tired of this party line. He knows this. He thinks this “big sin, big suffering; big righteousness, big prosperity,” — he thinks that little, simple way of viewing life is just naïve. So he thinks this is all out of sync with reality. “It is all one; therefore I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’” In other words, “I don’t buy your principle. God destroys the blameless. God destroys the wicked.” “When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked; he covers the faces of its judges — if it is not he, who then is it?” The wicked prosper and the innocent get killed. And God’s behind it all. Don’t tell me your little simple principles of big sin, big pain; big righteousness, big prosperity. It doesn’t work.”

Chapter 10:6–7 says, “You seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, although you know that I am not guilty.” So there’s the second time he’s protesting his innocence. Now I’m going to admit something here: I think Job, before he’s done is going to be pushed so hard, he’s going to begin to overstate his own condition. And that’s why, in the end, there’s going to be some rebuke from God. Job started as a good man. He wasn’t punished for his sin, but as he’s pressed and pressed, the remnants of the sin that we all have begin to come up. It’s difficult to discern just where Job crosses the line. But I think he will. Whether he does here or not, I’m not sure. I don’t think he’s wrong to please his innocence at this point. The way they’re talking, “You must have some big, hidden sin in your life for this thing to drag on the way it is. Your kids must have had some big sin in their life for that to happen to them.” I think it’s right for Job to say, “You search my life. I’m not what you think I am.”

Zophar

Now Zophar, third person in this first cycle, he becomes even more harsh. Zophar doesn’t like Job’s rebuke of claiming to be innocent. And so in 11:14–15 he says, “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear.” So he challenges, “You say you’re innocent, lift it up, and you’ll be vindicated by God.” So that’s what Zophar has to contribute. Now Job, in his response to Zophar, resorts to sarcasm.

  • Job 12:3, “ I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these?”
  • Job 13:12, “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.”
  • Job 13:4, “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all.”

Then he says, “I want God to talk to. I don’t want to talk to you. I want to take up my case with God.” In Job 13:3, he says, “I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.” In other words, “I’m not getting anywhere with you. Your principles are not working. There so out of touch with reality. I’ll enter into a courtroom with God and lay my case before him.

And that’s the end of cycle one. It’s a long cycle because they are getting all their stuff out on the table now, and Job is responding. And what happens now in the remaining two cycles is that they get harsher and less credible as they go along.

Second and Third Cycles of Dialogue

So let’s make short work of these two cycles. I’ll just let each of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have one word. in chapter 15:20 let’s hear the principle again from Eliphaz: “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days.”

Now how does it sound in the mouth of Bildad? Job 18:5 says, “Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out. ” That’s the way Bildad says it. So if your light’s being put out, if you’re writhing in pain, it’s wickedness. That’s the explanation.

How does Zophar say it in Job 20:5? “The exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment.” It’s the same refrain all through this second cycle. These guys are not bringing anything new to the table.

What about cycle three? Well the last speech of Eliphaz in chapter 22 is brutal. So they’ve just lost all patieence with Job. They’ve lost all sensitivity. There wooden theology that isn’t big enough to cope with the ambiguities that Job sees in life is going to be hammered on this guy. So let me read you that in Job 22:5–9:

Is not your evil abundant?
     There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
     and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
     and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
     and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
     and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.

There’s not a shred of truth in that. That’s a lie. He has lost contact with reality because of a theology that can’t hold in the presence of reality. His theology can’t handle Job. And therefore, he distorts Job. When you’ve got a distorted theology, you’re going to hurt people. You’re going to distort people. The only way you can handle reality, to make it fit your bad theology, is to distort reality to fit it in there. So he makes a wicked man out of Job. And we know from Job’s testimony and God’s testimony that Job was blameless. This is a lie, Job 22:5–9; it is so preposterous that Bildad can barely make a six-verse contribution in his last cycle, as he gets a chance to talk, and Zophar says nothing. They’ve listened to Eliphaz say what he just says about Job, and they say, “What more can I say? That’s heavy.” I think they’re really nervous inside. That is probably a little too much, what he just said there.

Broken Theology

So if you ask now structurally, the way the book is built, we have three speeches and three responses. Three more shorter speeches, more brutal speeches, and three responses. Then the most brutal speech of all from Eliphaz, a little teeny one to contribute from Bildad, and Zophar, he’s gone. So the structure breaks down. I think that is a poetic or structural way of saying that the theology breaks down. The theology of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, breaks down in the end. It started symmetrically. There was some balance in Eliphaz’s first speech. There was some symmetry to it. There was some sensitivity to it, some gentleness to it, some querying to it. It gets more and more brittle, more and more wooden, less and less in touch with reality. And then structurally, they can’t even complete the cycle, as it were. So the main point of those 29 chapters, I think, is that the principle of big sin correlating with big pain, and big righteousness correlating with big prosperity, won’t hold in life. It won’t hold in life.

Progress of Faith

Now let’s step back for a moment and view the progress of Job’s faith in the midst of this. I said, in one sense, he’s moving along and beginning to overstate the case for his own righteousness. I don’t think that’s the main thing that’s happening. There’s some of that. I want to watch Job become a stronger believer, because there is some progress here. In chapter 3, Job sank and cursed the day of birth, and he said, “I don’t get it. I wish I were dead. This is dragging out too long. It doesn’t make sense.” And as they begin to hammer him, he comes back: “I’m not what you think I am. And I don’t know about my children, but I’m not what you think I am.”

Now does his faith increase or decrease during these 29 chapters of hammering? And I want to just point out how he’s dealing with the issue of death. This is intentional, probably in the way the writer structured this. And I think Job moves from weakness to strength in the issue of what’s going to become of me, ultimately. Let me see if I can point to the places where this becomes more plain. In chapter 7, we hear Job say something about Sheol and death. “As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up” (Job 7:9). So here Job is just expressing a common view of those days of, “Alright, I’m just going to fade out of here and disappear into Sheol; never come up again. There’s no future after the grave. And so let me sink into nothingness.”

Then in chapter 10, he’s still sunk in despair here as he thinks about death. Chapter 10:20–22:

Are not my days few?
     Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer
before I go — and I shall not return —
     to the land of darkness and deep shadow,
the land of gloom like thick darkness,
     like deep shadow without any order,
     where light is as thick darkness.” (Job 10:20–22)

As he goes on, that certainty of death and the hopelessness of nothingness beyond it, begins to change interestingly. In chapter 14:13, he cries out to be released in death, but then he raises a question. Not an assertion, but a question. Chapter 14:14 says, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” That’s a little different than “I’m going to die and I’m never returning.” Something’s going on as Job ponders the length of his suffering and he ponders the fact that, “I could live all my life with these boils, and then die. And I think as he ponders that in relation to the goodness of a sovereign God, the wheels about life beyond begin to turn, and faith begins to dictate something here. “If a man die, shall he live again?”

And then you all know where I’m heading, the book of Job. I’m heading to chapter 19. So let’s go there. Here’s where he comes to in this issue of death: Job 19:25–27. “I know that my Redeemer lives.” Now that’s God. I think from our vantage point, it’s Christ, ultimately, who redeemed him, but he knew that God would be a Redeemer for him. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” I think that it’s an affirmation of the resurrection of his own body in the presence of his Redeemer.

So he is sure that he’s going to meet God as his Redeemer, not just as angry judge, so don’t miss that. “My God is my Redeemer, not just my angry punishing judge. “He’s my Redeemer, and this boil-covered body is not the end of the story, when my flesh is destroyed.” And then there’s some translation question about whether you translate “from my flesh,” meaning “apart from my flesh,” I will see God, or “out of my flesh I will see God” because I’ll be raised with new flesh. I’m inclined to think that’s probably what it means.

So Job’s progress of faith, I think, is upward, not downward. And so we’re left at the end of this cycle with Job in chapters 26–31, magnifying the mysterious power and wisdom of God. And let’s just get a glimpse of Job’s language now. In Job 26:14, let’s let Job help us here with where he is coming out of this: “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” So he’s admitting that there’s power in God. There’s an ignorance on his part. “I can only see the outskirts of God’s ways. His ways are inscrutable and beyond understanding.”

Look at 28:12, where he extols the wisdom of God: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living.” God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.” This is humility here. He’s been proud at some moments, I think, as he’s asserted his integrity, perhaps too much. But here is a humble Job saying, “God knows the place to wisdom.” And then he holds fast to his integrity still. Job 26:6: “I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” “I’m not going to be driven by these accusers into demeaning God’s sanctifying work in my life.” So that’s my overview.

Lessons from the Cycles

Let’s draw out some lessons now from this section of the book.

1. True theological statements can be false.

Eliphaz said many true things. But when he got down to using his truth, it became false — meaning, he ruined it by a shallow and insensitive use of it. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” Alexander Pope said, “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” Or the biblical way of saying that is: “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” So you take a proverb from the Bible, you put it in the mouth of a fool, and he tries to lean on it, and the thorn goes up into his hand. He’s supposed to use it maybe to prick a little bit of dirt out of somebody’s tooth, and he sticks it in their eye, or in his own eye. It’s like Jesus talking about, “Get the log out of your own eye because then you’ll see clearly to get the speck out of somebody else’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5). If you don’t get the log out of your eye, just imagine how much damage this log will do as you lean over to do the eye surgery on the other person. You’d just bang them up the side of the head. And it may not be that the little eye surgery tool that he had in his hand was a bad tool, but he was so insensitive, he’s so proud that your truth becomes falsehood in the application of it.

Now I put a very high premium on theology. I write books about theology, and I teach my people about theology, but here I’m giving you a warning and some of you non-theologians are so happy to hear it. And the warning is: theology can hurt people as well as help people, and you can use true sentences so badly. All of us who are teachers, whether Sunday school teachers, or pastors or whatever. we know that sometimes our students are our worst enemies. The students who agree with us are our worst enemies because they get a little piece of it, and then they go hammer somebody with it. “I’m a Christian Hedonist because John Piper told me that you’re supposed to pursue your joy,” so *Bang! Bang! Or: “He’s a Calvinist, and God’s sovereign, so now I’m going to split a church over this thing.” Don’t they get it? No, they don’t get it. And so it’s risky to teach people. It’s just risky to teach truth because people get half of it or three-fourths of it, and they wreck lives with it.

I’ve got guys in my church who have been there for years, and they love my theology, and I don’t think they’re born again. For one of them, we had to get a restraining order, because he beat his wife, and now they’re divorced. He sits there and he takes notes. Have I ever felt powerless as a preacher? And so that’s going to happen in this group probably. Somebody will go away with some truth thing they heard here, and they’ll hurt somebody with it.

So my first point is: true theological statements — and there are a lot of them in Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar; that’s why the book is hard to understand. You read those speeches and you say, What’s wrong with that? Why is that in the mouth of Eliphaz? Why is that in the mouth of Bildad and Zophar? I believe that: God’s just. And he does punish people for their sin. But it’s the balance. It’s the sensitivity. It’s the bringing theology into accord with the bigger picture of Job, who is a good man and he’s also suffering. So you’ve got to loosen up that little principle now. You can’t keep it as tight and wooden and breakable as it was, that all sin is owing to wickedness. That’s my first point.

2. Suffering and prosperity are not simply results of evil and good.

Suffering and prosperity are not distributed in the world in proportion to evil and good that a person does. Job is right in 21:30, when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity.” That’s not just an overstatement; that’s true.

I look at theologians, for example, my doktorvater, Leonard Goppelt, died at age 62 — a godly man in Germany. They needed his moderate voice. He dropped dead of a heart attack. And Rudolf Bultmann, destroying faith, right and left, lives to be 93 years old. Explain that one, God. There is no explanation on the earth in trying to figure out who lives long, who lives short. There’s no explanation we can see for why one of the most godly, prayerful, older women at my church dies with six weeks of agony, and another carnal person drops dead in their sleep. You look out on the real world and you just say, “These simple little things that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are working with, don’t work. They just don’t work. I can give you a bunch of other verses on that.

3. God still reigns.

God still reigns over the affairs of men. From the greatest to the smallest, he reigns. Is it not remarkable that Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Job, never question the sovereignty of God. That’s a common ground in this book. It is never questioned. This is not a book disputing about whether God is sovereign. That’s a given in this book. Isn’t that remarkable? Never does Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar say, “You shouldn’t be attributing to God these things.” Job doesn’t say, “You shouldn’t be attributing to God these things.” That’s a given. And for us, it seems to be up for grabs so often. But it wasn’t up for grabs in the book of Job.

4. Wisdom in this world is often hidden.

There is wisdom behind the apparent arbitrariness of the world, but it is hidden from man. That’s why I read Job 28:12: “ But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living.” God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.

So if you can’t figure something out, read this to yourself. It is not at your disposal to figure all this out. God knows the way to it. Some of it he reveals. And then according to Deuteronomy 29:29, he keeps some things hidden for himself. He keeps a lot hidden for himself. In fact, we see through a glass darkly.

5. Hold fast to God.

And I think the last thing I would say is: Therefore, let’s hold on to God. Let’s hold fast to God. Hold fast to God before your accusers. Hold fast to God before your suffering. Hold fast to God when somebody beats you up with bad theology, or just beats you up with a good theology. Hold fast to God

And let words be for the wind — even from pastor who may be speechless, and yet speak and say things that he shouldn’t have said. Pastors here, there are not many, but may the Lord give us a special wisdom. And for those of you who are not pastors, and you wonder, “Can I ever minister to somebody who’s in pain?” you can because everybody can sit quietly for seven days and pray, and go get water, and hand them a cold rag, and cry when they’re crying. Everybody can do that. And that’s the most important thing that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did. When they opened their mouth, everything started going wrong. While they were quiet, they were helpful.