Holding on to Your Faith in the Midst of Suffering: Job
The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina
We’re going to be looking at the Job 32–37. From chapter 4–31, Job conversed with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar about the meaning of suffering. He won the argument, but he didn’t come up with an answer.
The principle that he defeated was the simple principle of retributive justice that says, in the world, God is a God of justice, and this expresses itself through the righteous prospering and the wicked suffering. When there’s lots of righteousness, there’ll be lots of prosperity. When there’s lots of wickedness, there will be lots of suffering. And it didn’t hold. It couldn’t be made to stand against the witness and the integrity of the person, Job, who was suffering a lot, and his life did not correlate with a lot of evil.
Job defended himself valiantly and pointed to exceptions in the world to this principle, and so they failed. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were not able to sustain this theory of righteousness or justice in the world in the face of Job’s realism and his integrity. As the argument developed and the three cycles moved, the speeches of these friends got shorter, and they got more hostile until they faded out, with Bildad able to muster six verses at the end, and Zophar not able to speak anything. Job had the last word in that argument, but he had no answer when he was done. He simply defeated theirs. He had no answer to why he should be called upon for such extensive suffering.
Left with Questions
The question now is: Is there an answer? Or is the point that there’s no answer? Is that the point of the Book of Job? There’s just no answer. You just trust God; he knows what he’s doing, and he doesn’t give anybody any answers or any explanations for what he’s doing. You just be quiet and trust him. In a sense, what you have at the end of Job’s speeches is a God that looks fairly arbitrary and fairly capricious. He does what he does. He doesn’t give any account to anybody. As far as we can tell, it makes no sense to us, but in his mind, perhaps, it does make sense, and so keep your hand on your mouth and don’t complain.
In a sense, you can live that way quite well, and many people do. I jotted down five things that are true in that case that are really wonderful things. It’s not as though we have nothing.
You’d say: yes, God rules over the world, and he controls all that happens. You can have that confidence from the Book of Job.
A second would be: I believe that he’s just and wise. You can get that from the Book of Job.
A third would be, things look capricious and they look arbitrary, but in the end, somehow all wrongs will be righted. But I don’t see any sense to them now.
Fourth, in Jesus Christ, we see the love of God for us, and therefore, we have a strong hope that we can be on his side through Jesus Christ, and that it’ll turn out well with us if we trust him.
So let us be still, trust God, and not look for any further explanation for why we might suffer for a long time in this life.
That’s enough to live by; it is. If the Book of Job stopped at chapter 31, that’s what we’d have. But it’s not done; it’s not nearly done.
Let the Young Speak
Elihu comes on the scene in chapter 32, and he speaks. He’s the only one who speaks all the way through chapter 37. Six chapters he gets, 32–37. Now what’s the point of this man? That’s what we want. What is he bringing here? Where did he come from? What does he have to teach, this young man named Elihu?
There’s a lot of preachable stuff in these chapters, by the way. I remember back in the early days of my church, I inherited a church of about three hundred grey heads. And I had been a teacher in a college just about twenty minutes away. So the church called me, and with me came scads of young people. So we had these two churches now that were worshiping together: all these young people and all these older people. And my job was to make everybody happy. Now that was before the revolution of contemporary worship, so that wasn’t quite the issue. But there were issues.
I came back from vacation, I think, after my first year there, and I preached from this section in Job about the youth of Elihu, and how he shut the mouths of the old people. But it wasn’t the only sermon I preached. I balanced it with, which is also very easy to find, texts in the Bible that talk about the glory of an old man is his gray hair, and every son should shut up and listen to the wisdom of his father. There are many texts in the Bible that commend the wisdom of the old, but they’re not the only texts in the Bible. That was my point. All these older people knew I felt that. I respect age highly. I revere my father. The way children treat their parents today, I just stand in absolute shock at the disrespect with which most young people treat their parents. I could no more offend my father in any kind of gross and outright disrespectful way than I could jump ten feet in the air, I think. I’m just wired to stand in awe of my 81-year-old father. They didn’t doubt that. They knew that about me.
Elihu is a young man, and he brings another perspective to bear here upon the situation. In fact, he is going to, I believe, speak some very true things here. We need to ask, Why is Elihu given six chapters, and what does he have to add to what has been said so far? Now what Elihu does is to come on the scene and say, “Friends of Job, you’re wrong. And Job, you’re wrong.” He brings a new perspective. He says, “Job has been wrong in that he has accused God of being his enemy and being arbitrary without understanding. And the friends are wrong in saying that suffering is always in correlation with righteousness or unrighteousness. Both of those are wrong: this justice principle that they’re dealing with, and Job’s saying that “God, you’re my enemy. Why are you my enemy?” Both of those are wrong.
Five Reasons to Trust Elihu
Now here’s the question we have to ask: Why should we assume, or should we, that Elihu is not just another one of these bad theology guys? Why should we assume, or should we, that what Elihu teaches in Chapters 32–36 is an improvement upon what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar taught? Is it? Or is it just more of the same? When you read the commentaries, you’re going to get a division of the house on this. I looked at one commentary by Francis Anderson, for example, in the Tyndale Old Testament commentary series, and he does not at all agree with what I’m going to say here — namely, that Elihu is brought on the scene to speak truth and to advance the argument, before God speaks the decisive and final word. Rather, he uses words like “cruel,” “cold,” “detached,” “crass,” “trite,” “perfectionist,” and “vain” to describe Elihu.
There are differences between interpreters on this, and you need to know that I’m going to take a position here that says Elihu’s six chapters are meant to be an advance on Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar in a positive way. Something good and right is going to be taught here about Job’s mistake, and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar’s mistake; and then God, building on, not contradicting Elihu, is going to take the word. We’ll take those speeches of God tomorrow. It’s good to do that on the Lord’s Day.
Here’s what we need to do. We need to ask: What are the reasons why we’re going to credit the word of Elihu with speaking truth rather than more bad theology? I’ve got five reasons. But before I give you those reasons, I want to admit that Elihu says some really hard things to understand — some things that do sound a lot like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. And in places he is very tough on Job. I admit that. But now I want to give you five reasons for why I believe the author who wrote this book, the inspired author who put all this together, wants us to believe the theology of Elihu in these six chapters. Here’s five reasons.
1. Elihu identifies neither with Job nor his friends.
The words of Elihu are introduced in chapter 32, not as a continuation or repetition of what these three friends said, but as something new. Let’s read Job 32:1–3.
So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.
What you have here is a man presented to us who’s not going to align himself with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and he’s not going to align himself with Job. He says, “You’re both wrong.” In Job 32:14, Elihu says to the three friends, “He has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.” In other words, he’s been evidently sitting there listening to this. Can you imagine that? He’s been sitting there, as a young man, keeping his mouth shut. Young people are to be seen and not heard. And for all these 31 chapters, no word. He’s very respectful. He’s listening. The old men are speaking first, and he’s listening.
When they’re done, he’s very angry. He’s very angry at what he has heard. He says here, “Job hasn’t directed his words against me.” In other words, “I don’t see myself under attack by Job. He’s attacking you. I’m not in your camp, and I will not answer him with your speeches. I’m not in your camp, he’s right. And I’m not in his camp. I don’t like the way he has begun to justify himself at the expense of putting God in the position of being his enemy. Job does not get what’s really happening.”
And he claims in Job 32:8 to be speaking by the Spirit: “But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” I think Elihu believes that God has touched him and has given him some insight here. That’s why he’s emboldened now as a young man to be expressive of his anger and his indignation about this bad theology in the three friends and Job slipping over into an excessive self-justification.
That’s my first reason: as I see it presented in the narrative, the writer doesn’t want us to align Elihu with the three bad theologians or with Job.
2. Elihu breaks the pattern of cycles.
The second reason: the writer gives him six chapters to talk, six more chapters: 32–37. Now that just wouldn’t fit with the meaning of these three cycles that we saw earlier, where the cycles become more and more short, and more and more harsh, and peter out in the end with nothing more to say by Bildad and Zophar. If this man were just an echo of more bad theology, why would he give him six chapters to do more bad theology, when the point of the three cycles was to say they ran out of juice and had nothing more to say? That just doesn’t fit.
I’m inclined to think that the fact he gets six chapters given to him by this writer is a pointer in another direction — namely; something new is being said here. Something crucial is being said here, something that we need to listen to.
3. Job does not argue with Elihu.
Here’s my third reason: Job does not even try to argue with Elihu, and he argued forcefully and successfully with the other three. If Elihu were giving bad theology, wouldn’t Job stand up and respond like he did to the others and say no? Elihu even invites him to do it. Job 33:32 says, “If you have any words, answer me.” And Job doesn’t say a word. Now that’s remarkable. So I think a third reason is that Job agrees. I think Job’s conscience is profoundly pricked by the teaching of these chapters.
We know from Job 42:6 that Job repents. I know God’s speech moves in between here, between Elihu and Job’s repentance, but the fact that neither God nor Job questions Elihu makes me think that the repentance of Job is a response to both what Elihu says and what God says. There’s no argument from Job with Elihu. That’s argument number three for why I think we should listen to him.
4. God does not criticize Elihu.
God, in 42:7, looks back over the scene of this dialogue and criticizes Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and does not criticize Elihu. Let’s see this. This is very crucial, I think. Verse 7 says, “After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’” And there’s not a word of criticism about Elihu.
Well, if Elihu is six chapters of more bad theology, that’s odd — real odd. I think it’s a strong argument that we don’t have six chapters of bad theology with Elihu. We have a first stage of a good answer, which God himself is going to complete when he takes the word in chapters 33 following.
5. Elihu does not repeat what’s already been said.
The final argument: when you read the six chapters and study the content, you find some new things, some answers to Job’s question about why he is suffering. Elihu isn’t a repetition merely of more simplistic theology that just says bad people suffer a lot, and good people don’t suffer. That’s not the position he takes at root for why Job is suffering and why the righteous suffer.
So I guess what we should do is just get into it. Find out what he said, and then you judge whether you think it’s just repetition of the bad theology, or whether you think it’s good and added and should be embraced as the first stage of the answer for what’s going on in Job’s life as to why this suffering should be extended so far.
Where Elihu Finds Fault
Well, he thinks Job is wrong. Job has been wrong. Indeed, he’s going to point to the fact that the root problem with Job is that, though he’s a righteous man, there is a sediment of imperfection and pride at the bottom of the beaker of his life. And when it gets jostled enough by this battering of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the sediment begins to rise up and contaminate the purity in this man’s life. Some inappropriate things come out of his mouth for which, in 42:6, he is going to repent in dust and ashes. That sin that got stirred up from the sediment called pride and arrogance is what his suffering is going to be partly about, without contradicting where God says this is a righteous man, and a blameless man, and a man who is the best in the East. Let’s read now the indictment in 33:8–10. You’ll see what Elihu thinks the problem is here with Job.
Surely you have spoken in my ears,
and I have heard the sound of your words.
You say, ‘I am pure, without transgression;
I am clean, and there is no iniquity in me.
Behold, he finds occasions against me,
he counts me as his enemy, he puts my feet in the stocks
and watches all my paths. (Job 33:8–11)
Now notice two things, and Elihu doesn’t like either one of them:
- Job says, “I am pure. There is no iniquity in me.” That’s one.
- And “God has proved himself now to be my enemy. He puts my feet in the stocks and watches all my paths.”
Now Elihu says, “Behold, in this you are not right” (Job 33:12). In what are you not right? Two things: you shouldn’t be declaring your purity so forcefully after what you’ve been saying, and you are wrong to say that God is your enemy. Don’t say that God is your enemy. Don’t interpret this suffering as the enmity of God. When Job gets to Chapter 42:6, he says, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” And I think the reason for his repentance is those two things: I have overstated my purity and I have put God — forgive me — in the position of my enemy. That has not been what these sufferings are all about.
Elihu’s understanding of why the righteous suffer has to do with this residue of pride. We’re going to see it explicitly in just a moment: this residue of pride in the life of the righteous. He gives a couple of explanations of what he’s just said there in chapter 33, so let’s take them one at a time.
Rescue from Pride
In Job 33:14–19, he describes two ways that God speaks to man to rescue man from his pride and his sin. Remember these are probably pre-Scripture days. I didn’t date this book, and I didn’t date the story that goes back much farther than the writing of the book. But there’s no evidence that he knows anything about the law of Moses. There’s no evidence that this is anything earlier than the patriarchal period of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so we don’t have Scriptures. So how does God speak to man? He says there are two ways: (1) dreams, and (2) pain. Let’s read it 33:14:
For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man.
Now just pause there and make sure we see the issue. He looks upon a good man, perhaps, maybe an evil man, but perhaps a good man. We’re going to see that it is a good man in just a moment. He sees residue of pride in his heart, threatening to rise up and ruin his life. Then he comes to him in a way that he has access to him, in a dream, and he terrifies him. Why? Because he hates him? No, to “conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:17–18)
This is a savior God who’s terrifying him in his dream. This is a rescue operation in a nightmare. I pray that for my children when I need to. If you can’t get at them any other way, give them nightmares about what might happen to them in order that you might rescue their soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword. Now here comes the second way that God speaks. Job 33:19 says:
Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
and with continual strife in his bones.
Pain, sickness, and visions of the night are the two ways he said God speaks to rescue man from pride and bring him back from the pit. Job 33:17 says, “that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man . . . [and keep] back his souls from the pit.” Do you see those three merciful purposes for nightmares and pain.
Elihu does not picture God as an angry judge when he contemplates the pain of the righteous. He pictures God as a redeemer, a savior, a rescuer. The pain he causes is like a surgeon’s knife, not an executioner’s sword. That’s the way Elihu is thinking. You didn’t hear a word of that from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, except just a little whiff in the first speech of Eliphaz. I pointed it out to you, that he pointed toward some chastisement in love. Then he left that behind so fast, when he should’ve built on that. He should’ve used that.
God doesn’t have to be angry. He doesn’t have to be your enemy. He might be your surgeon, not because you’re a wicked person, but because there is in every fallen human being remnants of corruption and pride that lie at the bottom that, if jostled, get stirred up, contaminate, bring reproach upon the Lord, and God would like to remove that. That’s the first explanation of his statement. That Job says, “I am pure, and God is my enemy,” is not right. He says in 33:12, “Behold, in this you are not right,” in talking about God and yourself in this way.
The Righteous Sinner
Now here comes the second explanation in 36:6–15. What’s so helpful about these verses is that Elihu helps us get a category in our minds that’s so hard for us when we read the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, of “righteous sinners.” Aren’t you bothered by how frequently the psalmists protest their righteousness: the righteous this and the righteous that? You’re a Christian. You know the cross. You know your sin. You just choke on putting yourself in that category of the righteous. Psalm 1:2–6 says:
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Well, which are you? Are you in that psalm anywhere? You’ve got to be. There are only two possibilities. Yet we choke on saying, “I am righteous.” I feel it. I feel it because I know that my righteousness, in one sense, is as filthy rags. But we’ve got to get this clear. When you read the Psalms, you have a two-way theology. There are the righteous, and there are the wicked. What we need help with is, Well, could there be a category of righteous sinners? Because maybe I could fit in that.
And there are pointers here to justification by faith apart from works of the law and the justification of the ungodly. I don’t think it’s there in full bloom, but it’s pointing there. But there are really righteous people like Job — God said it, not just Elihu; God said it in 1:1–3, and yet now he’s going to repent in dust and ashes in Chapter 42. Where did that come from if he’s a righteous man? We must have a category. This text and Elihu’s theology is going to help us get a category of a righteous person who still has some surgery needed in his life to remove remnants of corruption. Job 36:6–7 says:
He does not keep the wicked alive,
but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
but with kings on the throne
he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
The righteous are exalted, and the wicked He puts to death.
That sounds like Eliphaz. That sounds simplistic and like the old retributive justice doctrine that got shuttered, but we shouldn’t stop reading there. He’s just referring to the righteous there in Verse 7. God does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings upon the throne, he sets them forever and they are exalted. Now verses 8–9. This is hopeful, because here you have a man that seems to have a little handle on realism, that sometimes righteous people are bound in fetters and sometimes they’re caught in the cords of affliction. Elihu admits that.
And if they are bound in chains
and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
He opens their ears to instruction
and commands that they return from iniquity.
Now think about this. They are righteous, according to verse 8; they’re righteous. He’s talking to righteous people. Yet they’re caught in fetters, and he says there’s some pride going on here. There are transgressions going on here, and he does correlate it with this residue of pride. He says that God opens their ears to instruction with these fetters and these cords of affliction. He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. They’re not sinless; they are righteous, and yet they’re not sinless.
Now Job does not have to regard God as his enemy here. He can regard God as his surgeon here, digging in, exposing things that lay dormant in his life. He was blameless in one sense, and a righteous man. Now through all this jostling of suffering and conflict, some ugly stuff gets stirred up in Job’s life, and the way it gets exposed and dealt with is through affliction. Verse 10 says, “He opens the ear of the righteous.” I think what he means there is that affliction is one way of getting us to understand God and understand ourselves. I see it in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Now this is the psalmist talking, a good man, a righteous man. “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” He talks about his own integrity and his own righteousness. Here, he exposes the fact that: “Well, when affliction comes, I learn more about myself, more than I’d like to know. And I learn more about the statutes of God.”
Luther’s Focus on Suffering
Luther said there are three methods of interpreting the Bible, and all three of them are necessary. He gave them the Latin words meditatio, oratio, and tentation, which come over into English as meditation, prayer — and you know what tentatio is? It’s translated in different ways: testing, trial, temptation. The German word he used was anfechtung, attack from enemies, suffering. That’s a necessary interpretational device for understanding this book. You know what he based that on? Psalm 119:71 says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.”
Some of your questions earlier were about whether affliction is necessary to grow or is necessary to know ourselves or necessary to know God. And I want to make it real clear, it is not the only way to grow. God has many wonderful things to teach about himself through the beauties of nature, and a glorious grace like The Cove, and good food on the table, and a happy marriage, and obedient children, and a lifetime of health. Those are wonderful things to learn about God. But there are other things to learn about God, and depths of relationship with God that you probably won’t learn any other way than “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.”
Now, I think Elihu has got a handle on this, and he’s thinking of nightmares and suffering as ways God gets our ear. He opens their ears to instruction such that the suffering that comes into a life comes in, not as a consuming fire, but as a refining fire. We see this all over the New Testament.
Refined in Affliction
Let’s keep going here in Job 36 to see the rest of this and get it clearer. Verse 13 says, “The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them.” Godless people don’t respond properly to the fetters of affliction. They don’t cry out for help. If you are attacked, you should cry out for help to God, even if God is behind it. Verse 14 also says, “They die in youth, and their life ends among the cult prostitutes. And verse 15 says, “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.”
Now I think that’s just about the bottom line of his explanation of what’s going on with Job. He delivers the afflicted — and he means the righteous-type afflicted, the Job-type afflicted. Yes, there’s sin. Yes, there’s some transgressions that are coming out now through this affliction. Yes, there’s pride and arrogance that’s emerging. But God is in the business of delivering Job by his affliction. It’s the affliction that stirs it up and the affliction that delivers him from it, if he will be thrown onto God by his affliction. Haven’t we all tasted this?
I’ve got a book on fasting. I don’t know if they have it downstairs, but it’s my best shot at what fasting is. Fasting is a way of denying yourself something legitimate, food usually, in order to make yourself hungry in order, by that physical hunger, to transpose it spiritually up an octave into spiritual hunger for God and say to him, “This much, O God, I want you.” I think that’s the meaning of fasting: “This much, O God, I want you. I just take my body today, deny it satisfaction from the worldly things, in order to let a hunger — even a painful one — arise, and then lift it up as a statement to you: ‘This much I need you. This much I want you.’”
Now if you try that, say, 24 hours, or three days or eight days, 40 days on a juice fast, or something, you know what you’ll discover in your life? Sin — big time. Your temper will be short. You won’t have many emotional resources to deal with anything that crosses your will. You’ll get mad at the kids a lot more easily. You’ll have a short fuse with the wife. Why? Because you’re so dependent on food for your holiness. By voluntary affliction, you can be delivered. You can discover it, and see it for what it is. It’s been cloaked. It’s been medicated, legitimately medicated, all these days, because just the minute we get hungry, we stuff our face with something, and so we feel good. When you feel good, you treat people better. Your sanctification is not Spirit-given, but pizza-given or caffeine-given. That’s not real holiness, and so fasting is very important to discern where you are with God.
God will see to it that you fast from some things, even if you don’t. You might have to fast from health for a while, or you may have a thirty-year fast from a lost child, or a thirty-year fast from a spouse, or you may go blind and have a fifty-year fast from seeing. You may go deaf in your old age and have a ten-year fast from hearing. You’ll learn where your treasure is and where your joy is coming from.
By his affliction, he is delivering them. Job 36:15 is the bottom of his theology. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction. He’s correcting two things now: Job, don’t call God your enemy. He’s your surgeon. He loves you. He wants you to be holy, and wants you to be pure. He’s your Father, and he wants his children to be conformed to the image of his Son and bring them all into the kingdom, triumphant in holiness. And he’s pointing out that you’re not as good as you think you are, by stirring up some of the pride that lies there.
Now let’s go back to Job 32:2–3 where Elihu began to speak. He was angry because Job justified himself rather than God. In other words, at God’s expense, Job was saying, “I’m good.” Well, there’s a truth in that. God had said he was good. But now he’s begun to justify himself instead of God — that is, God is being put in the position of an enemy, and Job is pumping his own sins of righteousness by bringing God down to an adversary when, in fact, God is his Father, his redeemer, his sanctifier, his surgeon, his heavenly, good physician, his shepherd, loving his child through suffering, just like Hebrews 12 says. And Job is criticizing him for it. And Elihu sees this; he sees this.
He gets angry at Job’s three friends because they found no answer. Although they had declared Job in the wrong, all they could say about his suffering was, “You must be a really, really, really bad sinner. You must’ve committed some grave, horrendous sin, and God is angry at you.” Their categories were “You did a big, bad thing. God is the judge. God is after you to punish you for the big, bad thing.” They don’t have the category of redeemer, sanctifier, physician, lover, father, and the sediment of pride being brought up off the bottom and being mercifully cleaned out of Job’s life. So he disagrees with both; they’re both wrong.
How God Works Through Suffering
Here’s the central lesson of these chapters, I think, and we’ve already said it numerous times. Those who suffer as God’s — as believers — should trust God and trust in Christ today that our sins are forgiven, and that what we are receiving is not punishment. God never is punitive toward his blood-bought children. He does chastise for our good, but he does not punish what has been punished in Jesus; there is no double jeopardy.
If my sins are on the cross, the bad things that happen to me are not more cross. It’s not as though Jesus’s atoning for my sins is inadequate. Rather, the bad things that happen to me are to be interpreted the way Elihu interpreted them; namely, they are the longing hand of a father or the loving scalpel of a surgeon, and God is mercifully weaning me off of remnants of corruption that all of us have in us.
Share in His Holiness
It might be helpful to close with some New Testament passages on this. Let me give you just three or four, just so you can hear this being taught in another way besides the indirect narrative way it’s been taught by Elihu so far in Job. Hebrews 12:10–11 says, God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Did you hear that? I skipped over the earlier verses, which is a quote from the Proverbs which is the same situation with Job: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Now he’s explaining why: “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” It’s not that we weren’t holy before, but he wants more. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant. Later, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. One of the points of this seminar is that you might learn how to be trained by it rather than offended by it; trained by it rather than made angry by it.
We’re all wired that when something goes wrong, our first thought is, “What did I do?” not “How much does my Father love me?” That’s the point of Hebrews 12: the love of the Father. In fact, some of the strongest language is used here. If one does not get the discipline of his father he is a bastard.
Through the Fire
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7)
God wants your faith to redound to more glory, more honor, more praise, at the coming of Jesus, and therefore, he puts you through the fire, so that the gold will have the straw burned out of it, melted down, the dross skimmed off the top of the metal. And when it hardens again after the fire, it’s a new, stronger, more beautiful, pure, gold bar which will redound into praise and glory and honor at the coming of the Lord Jesus.
Rely on God
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
This isn’t the devil’s purpose. The devil doesn’t have this purpose. God has this purpose. God has a design in this crushing of the apostle, whatever it was. He doesn’t tell us what it was, but it was a crushing experience. God wants you to be so dependent upon the resurrection power of Christ as your final and most precious hope that he is willing to knock one prop after the other out from under your leaning life until there’s only one prop left. “Well, at least I’ll be raised from the dead.” They’re all gone.
We’re all going to be there, unless our death comes very suddenly. If we die over a few weeks, we’re all going to be lying there, and we’re going to feel worse than childlike. Children, at least, can move, and your wrists may be tied to the edge of the bed, because you’d grab the tubes otherwise. You’re going to be there, and you have nothing to look forward to in this life. You’ll either — at that moment — curse God for having taken everything precious from you, or you will do what this text says the whole purpose of that moment is: “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
Count It All Joy
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2–3)
Have you ever stopped at that moment and realized how strange that is that your steadfastness should be attacked to be produced? In other words, you’re making it in life. We’re making it. I’m enduring. I’m staying a Christian from day after day. I’m holding fast, and God ordains that there be some hardship that just clobbers me and threatens my steadfastness in order to produce steadfastness. That’s what this text says. Isn’t that strange? You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Threatened faith produces stronger faith.
It shouldn’t surprise us if you’ve ever done any exercising. What do you do to a muscle to make it stronger? You push on something so hard that it deteriorates a little bit. What happens to muscles when you do that? They get utterly fatigued, utterly exhausted, and in a few days you’re stronger. You bulge a little bit. That’s the way faith is. There’s a strength to faith that, in order to attain it, you have to have your faith clobbered by something. I don’t know any other explanation for why, when you set your face to go to the mission field, everything goes wrong. Everything falls apart as soon as you design a mission trip. Health falls apart. Cars fall apart. Relationships fall apart. Visas fall apart. Civil war comes. Everything falls apart when you set your face to do some mighty work for God. One of the reasons is not because God doesn’t want you to do it, but because, in order to do it, you’re going to have to have some faith that these little trials of the visa not showing up until the eleventh hour is going to be required over there when it’s your life that’s at stake and not your visa. God has his ways, and we just must learn to trust him.