Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 6: Thursday
Job summarizes the attitude of his friends: they are at ease and not beset with devastation, and so they look down on calamity as something that cannot touch them because it is only for those who stray from God’s ways and sin.
In today’s Bible reading of Job 11–12. Zophar speaks for the first time in chapter 11, and Job’s rejoinder begins in chapter 12, continuing through chapter 14. Of Job’s three friends, Zophar is the worst—he is cold and without pity as he lectures and rebukes Job, secure in his pomposity that he has all the answers to Job’s calamities. After I read Zophar’s words, I was very interested to see E. S. P. Heavenor’s comments on him, because as I’ve read through Job, I’ve found Heavenor to be immensely helpful. He writes:
“Zophar is the narrow dogmatist par excellence. We find in him two flaws characteristic of his type. In the first place he is too confident in his religious standpoint. We find no traces of a humble ‘I do not know’. He is right in maintaining that he is in touch with truth (e.g., 11:7–11, which speaks of the peerless, transcendent wisdom of God). He is wrong in thinking that he has all the truth. He understands not a whit more than Job about the reason for Job’s sufferings. Second, he is lacking in humility. He is swift to call Job to go down on his knees at the recollection of the limitations of human knowledge. Yet, as he talks down to Job, he forgets that the mind scrutinizing his sufferings is limited too. Unknown to himself, his deductions from Job’s misery have a far greater stamp of the wild ass’s colt (11:12) on them than the most agonized cries of the sufferer.”1
Job begins his rejoinder with biting sarcasm:
Then Job responded,
“Truly then you are the people,
And with you wisdom will die!
But I have intelligence as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
And who does not know such things as these?
I am a joke to my friends,
The one who called on God and He answered him;
The just and blameless man is a joke.
He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt,
As prepared for those whose feet slip.”
I quoted Os Guinness from his book, Doubt, two weeks ago. I want to revisit that chapter, “Keyhole Theology,” because Guinness comments specifically on Job. When he speaks of suspending judgment, he is referring to coming to conclusions about why you or someone else is suffering.2
“Can faith bear the pain and trust God, suspending judgement and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgements must be made?…To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again.
“…To suspend judgement and simply trust is the hardest thing. Faith must reach deep into its reserves of courage and endurance if the rising panic of incomprehensible pain is not be overwhelming.
“In Job we have the world’s classic sufferer, the one in whom every sufferer knows he has at least one brother. But much of Job’s agony was that he was racked by this very dilemma. Was he to trust God and suspend judgement, or was he to doubt in pressing for an explanation? At first he passed the test with honours….
“Each degree of mounting pressure served to heighten the dilemma. If he trusted God and suspended judgement, he had to be silent. But every moment he continued in silence was taken as a tacit admission of his guilt. Yet to defend himself he had to explain the suffering, and to do this he had to press reason to conclusions he had no desire to entertain and no right to make. This tension was the torturous rack on which Job’s faith was stretched to the breaking point. It is little wonder that his self-defense is a demonstration mixed with doubt….
“Job’s friends believed that God in his justice pays every man his desserts in this life, and therefore they presupposed a one-to-one ratio between sin and suffering: Job was suffering; Job must have sinned. Job roundly denies this. But in the absence of any knowledge of a final judgement after death he has no way to deny it. So in defending himself he demands from God a one-to- one ratio between suffering and explanation, between pain and meaning. Thus Job and his friends press reason too far and make judgements they have no right to. The two errors lead in opposite directions, but they are both minted from the same coin.”3
While I’m not sure it can be said that Job had no knowledge of a final judgment after death, I do agree that the great tension of suffering is to trust God rather than demand an explanation.
Friends of someone who suffers should not presume to offer a quick explanation of the why of his affliction. If a cause and effect is obvious, such as some behavior that directly ties into adversity, then prayer, love, humility and fear of God are keys to wisdom. If someone has a bad gash on a finger through wrong use of a kitchen knife, you don’t lecture on knife safety while the person bleeds to death. As you staunch the wound, the attitude revealed by the person will indicate whether rebuke or consolation and guidance is needed. I have heard women confess sin with tears. They had no need of rebuke; they were weeping already with repentance. They needed to be reminded of the forgiveness that was theirs in Christ and help to avoid temptation.
Someone like Job, however, who suffers without overt cause or comprehension, needs help trusting God in the face of no explanation of his affliction. That means first of all, you not pressing God for an explanation or implying to your friend that there is one to be had. Can you, yourself, trust God in the suffering of someone else? Can you bear the tension or must you have an explanation? I find this hardest of all to face when my children suffer. Then my tendency is to blame myself for some deficiency as their mother.
Whether we suffer or whether those we love suffer, we walk by faith in God, even when we don’t understand. Guinness, again, gives us help:
“A Christian doesn’t know why…, but (and here alone is the difference) he knows why he trusts God who knows why.
“And how is this? …a Jew not in his youth, but in his prime, who freely took on himself the full desolation of God’s silence so that after suffering in our place he might restore us to his Father, that then we might be sure that God is there, and God is good.
“For the Christian the cry of Jesus, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ will always have depths of meaning which the human mind can never fathom….
“…Not surprisingly it is those whose faith in God is anchored in the incarnation—God become flesh, crucified, risen—whose faith can pass through the fires of suffering. For there is no question however deep or painful which cannot be trusted with the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ.”4
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., pp. 429.
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
2, 3, 4Os Guinness, Doubt, Lion Publishing plc, England, 1976, Third Edition,1987, pp. 198, 206–208, 211, 213.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter