|Series Theme: The Anguish of Job|
1-10 roughly cover Ch.1-4
11-20 roughly cover Ch.4-7
21-30 roughly cover Ch.8-11
31-40 roughly cover Ch.12-15
41-50 roughly cover Ch.16-21
51-60 cover Ch.22-33
61-68 cover Ch.34-42
Meditation No. 21
Meditation Title: Suffering is Punishment?
Job 8:4 When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
When we come to chapter 8 we find the second of Job's friends, Bildad, wading in. He's not as diplomatic as Eliphaz. He ploughs in with no restraint. He starts off: “How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (v.2,3) Bildad hasn't taken lessons in empathy or understanding and he obviously has never been through anything like Job is experiencing. No, he comes in at the intellectual level and doesn't seem bothered about anything else.
Bildad reminds me of those Christians who are more concerned to prove their point than be concerned for the person. In fact in some parts of the Christian world the harshness with which the ‘Law' is dispensed, completely annuls the content of what is being said, because it certainly doesn't come with the grace of Jesus. Truth separated from Grace is a horrible thing; that is why Paul spoke about “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Love brings a gentleness with it which again Paul commends to us: “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6;1). This applies as much to correcting a wrong understanding as it does to anything else.
"Your words are a blustering wind"? Nice start! Job has been here, for he's commented previously on the way Eliphaz just wrote off his despairing words as meaningless as the wind (6:26). Bildad has taken no notice of Job's plea and he also takes no notice of the anguish with which Job speaks. He just sees that Job is wrong – in his eyes at least – and so berates him for it, regardless of what Job is going through. This is a very important point in the Christian world because there is a lot of critical writing around that it more concerned to score points than maintain the unity of the faith and care for the weak. Pharisees were highly un-pastoral law-keepers and it was that dimension of their lives and attitudes that brought Jesus' anger.
"Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” What is he saying? Does God twist or ignore or distort justice for His own ends? Implied in this is, does God bring judgment unjustly? Then he ploughs in with today's verse: "When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin." There it is, right out in the open! Your children have obviously been judged by God for what must be their sin (because he only judges sin), so you don't have a leg to stand on. Stop trying to appear righteous! That is what he is saying here. It is this same link that we saw with Eliphaz, except he is being more blatant, that suffering is God's judgment and so suffering must be a sign of the presence of sin.
Yes, there is a case where self-inflicted suffering is linked with sin. Sexually transmitted diseases follow a promiscuous lifestyle. Drug addiction flows on from taking recreational drugs which don't satisfy and lead on to hard drugs which lead to addiction. A few regular drinks lead on to lots of regular drinks which turns into alcoholism and, yes, all these outworkings can be classified as forms of suffering and, yes, they are self inflicted. But then we come to ‘natural' catastrophes – floods, hurricanes, earthquakes.
Well, the Bible does seem to indicate that the natural order was upset with the Fall, and so yes, we do live with the consequences of the Fall, but there seems a simple principle that occurs in the life of Israel, which is that God only brings judgment after He has warned many times. We have already commented on Jesus' dismissal of this way of thinking (Lk 13:1-5). There is a general call to repent, but specific warning come through God's prophets, and then only may we attribute specific catastrophic judgment to God. Much more common is God's judgment that comes in the form of Him standing back and leaving us to our own devices so that unrestrained sin can bite us and bring us to our senses (see Rom 1:24-32).
Of course, as we've commented before, these friends have not been privy to the events in heaven, so they don't know what is really going on here, so they resort to this mechanistic way of thinking that we are so prone to fall into, that if THIS happens then THAT must be the cause, and we have these lists of things that are linked, summarized as “suffering is judgment on sin.”
The trouble with this mechanistic thinking is that it has mechanistic answers and that is what Bildad now comes up with: If you do THIS then THAT will happen. It's the “if-then” logic than basic computer programmers used. Listen to it for there are two “if” conditions coming: “if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright….” (v.5,6a). There you are, it's down to you Job, to bring an end to this. All you have to do is humble yourself and plead before God AND make sure you change your lifestyle so that you can say that you are ‘pure and upright', then things might change! In other words, sin has got to be at the root of all this and sin is dealt with by repentance and living a righteous life. Well, yes, that is true generally – but it's NOT here! Testing in a trial is not necessarily about sin. Here it's about character!
The second part of this mechanistic or automatic mentality is the “then” part. If you will do that Job, THEN the Lord will do this: “he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.” If you repent and sort your life out, the Lord will come to you and restore you and make you prosperous again. Well, yes, He's going to do that anyway, but it's not a case of repentance needed; it's what He's got on His heart to do (see end of book) and He's going to do it anyway!
Do you see the message that keeps on coming through? Our faith is not a mechanistic thing, it is a relationship with the living God, and He will do what He will do. Yes, it will be completely in line with His character, but that is far more than about rule keeping. Check out your faith to ensure you are not a mechanistic rule keeper, otherwise you will find yourself in trouble one of these days when you are being tried and tested on your knowledge of His love for you.