WHEN HELPING HURTS & HURTS HELP
These are my notes for teaching the Cornerstone's online Bible study on Wedn
As promised, this evening we will focus on Job's friends. These four men as well as Job himself teach us how to understand suffering and pain in our lives
As promised, this evening we will focus on Job's friends. These four men as well as Job himself teach us how to understand suffering and pain in our lives.
From Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, we learn that even sincere friends can hurt us by their misguided attempts to help us. They came from their homes and met up to comfort Job:
(Job 2:11-13) When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
These three show beautiful empathy with Job. They sat in silent solidarity with a man who was hurting beyond words. This was a loving and helpful thing to do.
FALSE SPIRITUAL ARITHMETIC
It was when they began to speak that things unravelled. Their insights revealed a deep flaw in their understanding of God and human suffering. E, B, and Z believed in the simplistic and false spiritual arithmetic:
Suffering = punishment for sin.
Success = reward for righteousness.
Here's how Eliphaz expressed it:
(Job 4:7-9) “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? 8 As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. 9 At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more.
Bildad was just as off-base:
(Job 8:3-6) Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? 4 When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. 5 But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, 6 if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state.
(Job 8:20) Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers.
In other words, this is how the world works: you get what you deserve; bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. It sounds so right, but it is just plain wrong, but I dare say it is the way almost everyone thinks. It's basic human nature, but it is a distortion of God and the Gospel.
Job argues and argues with them, but it is not until chapter 21 that he makes his decisive argument.
(Job 21:29-31) Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts — 30 that the wicked are spared from the day of calamity, that they are delivered from the day of wrath? 31 Who denounces their conduct to their face? Who repays them for what they have done?
Job rejected their arithmetic. But his alternative isn't much better. In Job's mind, who succeeds and who suffers is a mystery that cannot solved; God does what he wants and there's no rhyme or reason for any of it. So deal with it.
This too is a view held by many and there is some truth in it. BUT it seems to say that suffering is pointless on a human level. Only God knows. In fact, this isn't any more accurate than his friends' claims.
Then, along comes Elihu.
A GOSPEL VIEW OF SUFFERING
Elihu gets it right but his insights are hard to accept. Let's explore:
Elihu rejects both approaches - Job and his friends all got it wrong:
(Job 32:2-3) But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. 3 He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.
Job does not argue with Elihu:
(Job 33:32-33) If you have anything to say, answer me; speak up, for I want to vindicate you. 33 But if not, then listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
But Job says nothing.
God does not reject Elihu's argument, but he expresses anger against the others:
(Job 42:7) After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.
Elihu corrects Job's approach to suffering:
(Job 33:19) Someone may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in their bones,
(Job 36:15-16) But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. 16 “He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.
If I understand this correctly (admittedly, it is difficult language), God uses our experiences of suffering to woo us from sin and to refocus us. God re-purposes our sufferings (which in Job's case were from Satan) from meaningless or destructive pain into a kind of tough love or a hard form of discipline that saves us from perishing and prepares us for heaven.
(Psalms 119:71) It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
This is the Gospel view of suffering - God re-purposes it for our good:
(1 Peter 1:6-7) In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(Hebrews 12:10-11) God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-9) We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
(James 1:2-4) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
(Romans 5:3-5) We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Popular formulas for explaining God or life or suffering can be dead wrong. We need to be much slower to jump to conclusions and to adopt simplistic slogans. God and life are much more nuanced than the kinds of theological cliches that fit on bumper stickers.
Sometimes, it takes a friend to point out our blind spots. However, sometimes our friends are dead wrong. Sometimes, it's better to sit in silence than to open mouth and insert foot.
What Satan or disease or loss or pain or people intend for evil in our lives ( evil, such as the destruction of our faith, for example), God will use for our good, to refine our faith, grow our godly character, and prepare us for heaven. IF WE WILL WORK WITH HIM AND STOP WHINING (we'll focus on that next week, when Job gets gob-smacked and finally shuts up).