Job 2:11-31:40 – A Bad Theology of Suffering

The first two weeks of this series we have covered God’s sovereignty over suffering, His purposes in it, how to suffer well and now today we’re gonna see how not to view suffering. Today we’ll meet Job’s three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) who come to his side after he lost everything. There are three cycles of conversations between Job and his friends that covers 2:11-31:40, and each argument is besst explained in everyone’s first argument (or first round of convo’s).

Along with Job’s wife, all partake in the faulty belief called the “Retribution Principle: God blesses those who are ‘good’, and He punishes those who are ‘bad’.”

Now this is a tricky principle, because it is filled with half truth. Yes, God does bless the righteous and punish the wicked, but the blessing and the punishment if only understood in an earthly/temporal way, then you are focused on the wrong blessing and punishment.

God has eternally blessed the righteous (those who trust in Jesus for their righteousness) through the atonement of Jesus on the cross. And He has also eternally punished the wicked by hell being the destination for those who ultimately never look to Jesus the Christ and Lord and Savior. One must understand the gospel if one is able to understand the problem of pain and suffering in this fleeting life.

So what I want to do today is unpack each friends understanding of God’s view of blessing and cursing and point out where their beliefs are wrong and help lead us to a better understanding of what God is like and hopefully aid us in suffering well in this life.

The thing that prompts Job’s friends to make their speeches is his outburst in chapter 3. After seven days of silence with his friends (and probably weeks of suffering before they came), Read from 2:11-3:1-3: “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said, ‘Let the day perish wherein I was born'” (3:1–3).

The weeks of relentless pain had taken their toll on Job’s serenity. He now questions God. Verse 11: “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should suck?” Verse 20: “Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not?”

Job cannot see any reason now for why he should have ever been given life or why his life should be preserved if there is going to be so much misery. And so he protests that the day of his birth should never have been. And of course this is a protest against God, because, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (1:21).

We will only cover the first cycle of responses because the other two do not reveal any new arguments, but they show the three friends becoming more harsh and less credible in the face of Job’s integrity and realism.

So we start off with Eliphaz the Temanite’s response:

The Retribution Principle: Job 4:7, 9: “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?… By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.”
His knowledge from observation: Job 4:8: “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.”

How many people do you know who base what they know about God on what they have seen? Creation does teach us some things about God, but it is very limited. Creation teaches that God is HUGE! He is creative. He is wise. He is good. But creation could never teach the depths of God’s love for the world in that He sent Jesus to die for us; this just cannot be learned from creation.

So Eliphaz’s knowledge is limited. I would assume much of our knowledge is limited as well. We are all really great emotional theologians, but when we fail to let God’s word validate our emotions, we are easily led into false beliefs about the God of universe.

The next place Eliphaz finds revelation is even worse. His Revelation came from the spirit world: Job 4:12-19: 12 “Now a word was brought to me stealthily; my ear received the whisper of it. 13 Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, 14 dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. 15 A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. 16 It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: 17 ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? 18 Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; 19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth.

vv. 17-18 sounds to me like Satan and his demons. God did not charge all of His angels with error, only those who rebelled against Him. It seems as if Eliphaz views God as a quasi (seemingly, but not really)-loving dictator.

Let’s summarize Eliphaz’s theology which is not all wrong, but wrong enough:

GOD PUNISHES THE WICKED: Job 4:7: “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?”

WE CAN NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH BEFORE GOD: Job 4:17-19: 17 ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? 18 Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; 19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like the moth.

DICTATORS CAN NOT BE BOTHERED WITH UNDERLINGS THAT TRY TO BREAK THE RULES: Job 5:1-2: 1 “Call now; is there anyone who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn? 2 Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple.”

PUNISHMENT COMES FOR A REASON: Job 5:6-7: 6 For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, 7 but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

YOUR BEST BET IS TO CALL OUT TO GOD AND ASK FOR FORGIVENESS: Job 5:8-9: 8 “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, 9 who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number:”

Eliphaz believes that this quasi-loving dictator will make everything better if you ask for forgiveness. Eliphaz seems to serve God and ask for forgiveness so that He will not be punished by Him.

Now we go to Bildad the Shuhite’s responses. For Bildad, this is all black and white. Job clearly has sinned, God can’t be wrong:

The Retribution Principle: Job 8:20: “Behold, God will not reject a blameless man,
nor take the hand of evildoers.”

His knowledge from history: Job 8:8-10: 8 “For inquire, please, of bygone ages,
and consider what the fathers have searched out. 9 For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. 10 Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?

It seems as if Bildad sees God as a Legalistic Sheriff: “Look at the evidence Job; God only punishes the wicked. There is no doubt that this punishment comes from God; thus you must be wicked.”

Let’s briefly summarize what Bildad believes:

GOD IS JUST AND HE DOES NOT PERVERT JUSTICE: Job 8:3: Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?

HE BELIEVES THAT JOB SHOULD IMPLORE THE COMPASSION OF GOD: Job 8:5: If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy,

IF JOB WAS RIGHTEOUS, GOD WOULD COME TO HIS AID: Job 8:6: if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation.

4. GOD ALWAYS FOLLOWS THE RULES: Job 8:11-13: 11 “Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? 12 While yet in flower and not cut down, they wither before any other plant. 13 Such are the paths of all who forget God; the hope of the godless shall perish.”

Like Eliphaz, Bildad follows the rules so he won’t be punished. He does not see though the “loving” part of God, rather, he believes that he can be righteous before God somehow.

Now’s let’s get to Job’s third friend, Zophar the Naamathite’s responses, which we don’t hear much from:
The Retribution Principle: Seems to almost assume it, but the clearest statement is in Job 11:13-16: 13 “If you prepare your heart, you will stretch out your hands toward him. 14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and let not injustice dwell in your tents. 15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure and will not fear. 16 You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away.

His knowledge from the school of wisdom: Job 11:5-6, 12: 5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, 6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves…12 But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!

Here’s what Zophar believes in summary:

FOR ZOPHAR GOD SEEMS TO BE AN IMPERSONAL JUDGE: Job 11:4-6: 4 For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in God’s eyes.’ 5 But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, 6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. God knows so much that he goes easy on you Job. He could have punished you more.

GOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE—THUS WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND OR COMPREHEND HIM: Job 11:7-8: 7 “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? 8 It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?”

Zophar seems to serve and obey God out of fear, not love. There are many people in the world who view God as an impersonal judge.

We will close with Job’s responses throughout these conversations which lead us to the reality that the retribution principle (God blesses those who are good, and He punishes those who are bad) is a bad theology of God and suffering.

Retribution Principle: Job also believes in the retribution principle, but that’s the problem. He doesn’t understand why he’s being punished even though he did not sin.

Job believes in a sovereign God that loves him. otherwise why complain that he is being treated unfairly in his eyes. Just one of Job’s arguments is enough to silence all of the bad theology that came from the mouths of himself and his friends: 7 Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence… (Job 21:7; for more context see Job 21:7-21).

This is a great argument. If they can find just one wicked person who is successful and prospering, then their whole retribution principle is faulty. Now let’s go back for a minute to the intro of the book. In the first 2 chapters of the book, the phrase “fears God and turns away from evil” is used 3 times when speaking of Job (1:1; 1:8; 2:3). This phrase sets Job apart from everyone else in the book.

All of the others feared God as well, but only because they were afraid of being punished if they didn’t fear Him and serve Him; that was clear to see from the words they spoke. But Job is different. All the other views of God did not cause them to question “why?”.

But all the other arguments aren’t good enough for Job. They all obeyed God for what God would give them as if the things they got from God were the end, which makes God the means to an end. This is never the case. God is the end. Many of us use God as a means to get what we want in life, and if that’s the case, worship of God is missed.

Okay, so here is the question I am heading towards towards this morning: What are you trying to make much of? Why are you motivated to obey God? What brings you comfort and happiness?

I want to put these questions central because if we don’t ask day by day, “What am I going to make much of today?”, then we will gravitate towards making much of the same things that everybody around us is making much of including Job’s friends, like doing the right things so we can get our blessings, or get our blessings back.

The difference between a Kingdom mindset and a worldly mindset is the King. What place does the King have? Is King Jesus central in our affections, our vocabulary, and in what we want to see happen at work, church, and in our leisure or is king me central?

The person who obeys God because He’s one of the characters we described from Job’s friends, is motivated to obey because of love of self, worldly gain, pleasure or comfort.

At Kineo, we are not going to believe that health, wealth, a big church, a happy family is solely because we have done what it takes to appease God. Christ Jesus alone has appeased God, and our obedience to Jesus because He has forgiven our sin is our evidence to the world that we belong to the King. Any other motivation to obey God is using Him as a means to something greater than God Himself.

Romans 4:4-5: 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Jesus appeased God on the cross, and opens up salvation to those who believe!
Could you imagine if we actually believed every day that we are only accepted by God because we believe the testimony of Jesus? And what if we actually believed that all earthly blessings were truly rubbish compared to what is ours in the new Kingdom? What would it look like if Jesus wasn’t a means to on end, but He Himself was the end that we longed for, and now realize we have!

I so desperately want us to be a church who gets the gospel so well that anything but the true gospel being preached and/or lived out looks and sounds terrible to us. This will mean that we will all be convicted daily with our lack of understanding and living out the true gospel. It will also mean we will renounce the things that are preached and lived out by other influences in our lives and we will strive to be holy as Christ Jesus is holy.

Jesus is beautiful and worthy of our praise. He became dirty on our behalf, so that we could be clean like He was, and thus be reconciled by God, fully accepted by Him, and He can now use us for His glory and our good. Do you see this? This is why we trust in Jesus, not ourselves. This is why the gospel is so central to all of life.

Let’s Pray!

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