Job and You - Part 1
Good News Magazine
September 1976
Volume: Vol XXV, No. 9
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Job and You - Part 1
D Paul Graunke  

Is Suffering Always the Result of Sin?

   The title of this article could just as well be "Job, God's Favorite — or God's Fall Guy?" or "How Much Can a Man Take and Keep His Faith?" or "Will a Man Be Religious Only if God Blesses Him?" or "Why Do Men Suffer?" or any number of others. This is because the story of Job touches upon directly and indirectly so many and profound themes.
   But the title "Job and You" was chosen for reasons dating back to the Old Testament Survey class I took as a student at Ambassador College. Each year the professor required the class to write a paper on the book of Job, and each year the theme and title of the paper was exactly the same: "Job and I."
   The paper didn't have to be long. But unlike any other paper due in the class, it had to be introspective. It was not enough to demonstrate a grasp of Job's character and situation. More important was our ability to identify with Job. We had to see Job's problem as our problem, to analyze our character and situation in light of his, because the professor believed the book had a crucial message and meaning for every student in his class.
   Thus the title "Job and You." In the next few pages we will take a look at the story of Job. In the process, it is hoped you, the reader, will take a look at yourself. For everyone of us has something in common with Job and his friends. Everyone of us has — or will have — experienced or witnessed tragedy so great that it gives rise to the questions, doubts and despair recorded in the book of Job.
Piety for a Price? In the first chapter we are introduced to Job, a man who was very rich and very righteous. In fact, He was so righteous that he took it upon himself to regularly burn offerings after his children's parties just in case they had sinned in any way (verse 5). Job was more than righteous; he was super-righteous, or as the writer of Ecclesiastes might have put it: "righteous overmuch" (Eccl. 7:16).
   One day in heaven, Satan was having an audience before God. (Satan means " adversary." Since the Hebrew has the definite article each time it is used in the book of Job, it should properly be translated "the Satan" or "the adversary.") God pointed out Job's piety to him. Now Satan, "the accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10), is an acknowledged expert at ferreting out and exploiting human error. But even he could not gainsay God's evaluation of Job's character.
   So he attacked his motivation instead: "'Why shouldn't he, when you pay him so well? 'Satan scoffed.' You have always protected him and his home and his property from all harm. You have prospered everything he does — look how rich he is! No wonder he "worships" you! But just take away his wealth, and you'll see him curse you to your face!'" (Job 1:10-11, The Living Bible.)
   Was Job's devotion altruistic or self-serving? Was it a labor of love or a labor for a reward? God allowed Satan to put Job to the test. But remember two things: 1) God had baited and hooked Satan for His own purposes — not vice versa. While ostensibly it may seem as if God had fallen for Satan's bait, in reality it was God who baited Satan first by pointing out Job's integrity. God was exploiting Satan's bilious nature for purposes which go beyond the question of Job's disinterested service. 2) Satan could go no further than God permitted: "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand" (verse 12).
   Satan proceeded to destroy Job's wealth and family. In one day Job went from riches to rags. Job was in grief and shock, but after losing practically everything, he said: "'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong" (verses 21-22).
   But Satan is the supreme cynic. He believes that every man has his price, his breaking point in pain and suffering. So he upped the ante: "Skin for skin!" he retorted when God pointed out that Job held fast to his integrity. "All that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth thy hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face" (Job 2:4-5).
   "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life'" (verse 6). Satan left and smote Job with painful sores. (The exact nature of the affliction is much debated in Bible commentaries.) Job forsook his house and took up residence on a pile of ashes (verse 8). Not just any pile of ashes, but as some commentaries point out, Job squatted on the mazbala — a garbage dump of dung, rubbish and rotting "carcasses.
   Job was now tormented by pain and rent by mental anguish. To add insult to injury, his wife told him to put himself out of his misery — curse God and die. (No wonder Satan spared her!) But Job replied philosophically, "'Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (verses 9-10).
Friends or Foes? So far, Job seemed to have passed the test. Now enter stage right three of Job's "friends." I use quotation marks around that word because although "they made an appointment together to come to condole with him and comfort him" (verse 11), they ended up severely criticizing the afflicted man.
   But at first, the three were genuinely shocked and grieved at Job's condition. They held a silent vigil with him for a week: "and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great" (verse 13).
   At long last, Job broke the silence. No longer do we hear the stoic philosophy of 1:21 and 2:10. After brooding over his pain and plight for interminable days, Job's mood changed. He broke forth with a torrent of sorrow and self-pity. In no uncertain terms, he said he wished he had never been born. Be sure to read his speech in chapter 3; better yet, read it in several translations if you have the opportunity. Some of the more modern translations, such as Moffatt's or The Living Bible, make vivid the thoughts and moods expressed by the speakers.
   In chapter 4, Eliphaz replied, beginning three rounds of straight-from-the-shoulder, no-punches-pulled outbursts, accusations and retorts — oh, yes, and eloquent religious and moral philosophizing. If you think the speakers were engaged in an impartial discussion with all deference to the rules of evidence and courtesy, you're wrong. All was not politeness and poetry in these chapters. Job's three friends were sure that Job had it coming to him — if only he would fess up to his sins — while Job steadfastly defended and maintained his own integrity. As the debate progressed, emotions rose and subtle and blunt insults were traded back and forth.
   For example, Bildad called Job a "windbag" in 8:2; and Job replied to Zophar's speech by saying sarcastically, "Yes, I realize you know everything! All wisdom will die with you!" (Job 12:2, The Living Bible.) And a little later on Job said: "What wonderful helpers you all are! And how you have encouraged me in my great need!... How did you ever think of all these brilliant comments?" (26:2, 4, The Living Bible.) This is but a sample of the. "friendly" sparring that took place.
   Rather than give a blow by blow account of the debate, let us summarize the speeches each person made. It is just as well that we adopt this procedure for the speakers did not consistently (sometimes not at all) reply to each other's argument so much as air their own theological beliefs.
Eliphaz the Mystic. Eliphaz, the Temanite, was a very religious, even mystical man. He experienced visions in the night (4:12-17) and they told him: "Can mortal man be righteous before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?" (Verse 17.) This disparaging, belittling concept of man was shared by Bildad (see 25:4-6) and forms a crucial premise in their arguments and accusations. (It was undoubtedly shared by Zophar, too, as we shall see.)
   Eliphaz contended that God alone is good, and that He allows suffering for disciplinary rather than punitive purposes. "Behold, happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands heal" (5:17-18) seems to be the core of his argument. At first, Eliphaz hinted that Job was hiding some secret sin (5:6), but later he came up with a bill of particulars: In 22:5-9 he accused Job of being callous and inconsiderate to the poor and unfortunate in the past. No wonder he's suffering now, Eliphaz concluded. His solution was for Job to commit himself humbly to God and get rid of the wrongdoing. Then God would reverse his circumstances (22:23, 27-28).
Bildad the Traditionalist. Bildad, the Shuhite, believed that the fathers knew best; his theological ideas were based on the traditions handed down from previous generations (8:8-10). His stock answer to Job's situation was that al/ misfortune is the result of sin (8:13, 20). If God doesn't get you, you'll inevitably bring misfortune upon yourself (18:8-10). You get what you deserve, and there can be no doubt that Job deserved what he had gotten. Bildad's solution: Job had better get back to God (8:5-7).
Zophar the Hard Liner. Zophar, the Naamathite, was a hard liner, a stern dogmatist. His beliefs were similar to Bildad's — only more so: God is inflexibly just. What you get is exactly what you deserve, and Job deserved more than he had already suffered! "Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves," he stated (11:6). He further declared that Job had better come clean — or else.
   In chapter 20, Zophar waxed eloquent and gruesome concerning the wretched, miserable, terrifying, painful and agonizing fate of the sinner. (Here was the original hellfire and damnation sermon with its morbid embellishment of the consequences of sin.)
Job's Friends — and You. Remember, these are only sketches of Job's three friends and their beliefs. We have only touched on some high points. Be sure to read their speeches on your own. Make your own analysis. It will help you to understand what is taking place in the story. And more importantly, it will help you to understand yourself when you are a witness to tragedy and suffering as were Job's friends.
   For each of us can probably find in these speeches attitudes and beliefs that reflect our own reaction to someone else's misfortune, our own viewpoint about suffering and divine retribution.
   For example, Job's friends suspected he had committed terrible sins for which he was receiving just retribution. Likewise, we oftentimes impute guilt to afflicted people. Or worse, we rejoice inwardly when someone whom we are critical of has had their comeuppance.
   Such thoughts are the antithesis of the approach Christians should take toward other people's woes. "He who mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished" (Prov. 17:5). The Bible even goes further to declare: " Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him" (Prov. 24:17-18).
   In reference to all forms of presumptuous judgment upon our fellowman, James wrote: "Never pull each other to pieces, my brothers. If you do you are judging your brother and setting yourself up in the place of God's Law; you have become in fact a critic of the Law. Yet if you start to criticize the Law instead of obeying it you are setting yourself up as judge, and there is only one judge, the one who gave the Law, to whom belongs absolute power of life and death. How can you then be so silly as to imagine that you are your neighbour's judge?" (James 4:11-12, Phillips.)
   Instead of being suspicious and critical, we should view someone else's personal tragedy with compassion and hope. Remember, "love is gladdened by goodness [not by tragedy], always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient" (I Cor. 13:7, Moffatt).
All Suffering the Result of Sin? Job's friends were not eager to believe the best in Job. They approached his calamity with suspicion and criticism. But their problem went deeper than that. Underlying the problem of a wrong approach was the more fundamental problem of a wrong theology. As was pointed out earlier, to one degree or another Job's friends subscribed to the idea that all suffering is the result of sin, that it is the wicked — not the righteous — who suffer calamity. They concluded that Job's tragedy was a manifestation of God's retribution, and his penalty fit his crime.
   But sin is not always the direct cause of suffering. For one thing "time and chance [as well as God's direct intervention] govern all.... no man knows when his hour will come; like fish caught in a net, like a bird taken in a snare, so men are trapped when bad times come suddenly" (Eccl. 9:11-12, The New English Bible).
   A fatal car accident, a house destroyed by fire, a crop failure, a stillborn child, a malignant cancer — these calamities need not be specific judgments from God for our sins. We suffer many times because we are subject to the vicissitudes, coincidences and imperfections of a physical existence. "Consider God's handiwork; who can straighten what he has made crooked? When things go well, be glad; but when things go ill, consider this: God has set the one alongside the other in such a way that no one can find out what is to happen next" (Eccl. 7:13-14, The New English Bible).
Fitting Facts to the Theology. Job's suffering was no accident. God was involved in what was transpiring although Satan was the active agent. But Job's iniquities were not the issue. Remember, Satan could not gainsay God's evaluation of Job's righteousness. Unfortunately, Job's friends were not privy to the celestial conversations between God and Satan. So they foolishly tailored the facts of the case — what few they could conjure up — to fit their theology. They clung to their syllogism that it is the wicked — not the righteous — who suffer: Job is suffering; therefore, Job must be wicked. To believe otherwise about Job would have required them to overhaul their theology. This they were clearly unable to do.
   Their erroneous theological assumptions and critical approach toward Job led them to misrepresent God as well as unfairly malign Job. For this God eventually upbraided them. "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends," He said to Eliphaz, "for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7).
   Job's three friends are examples of how not to react and evaluate personal calamity. But we have not cleared up the matter of Job's suffering. In fact, we are now more puzzled than ever. If Job was not a wicked man, then why was he suffering so much?

(To be continued)

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Good News MagazineSeptember 1976Vol XXV, No. 9