How easy to hide your hurts, smile when inside you are in pain. A flood damaged car can be made to look pretty good, but it’s likely to have problems forever, unless the real damage is addressed. A person with a bruised heart can be made to look pretty good, but the person is likely to continue with problems unless the root issues are resolved. Job refuses to accept hollow answers, superficial answers that don’t ring true…When bad things happen, the question that haunts us is why?
Eliphaz, the friend of Job, gives an answer: “You are suffering because you sinned.” His name means, “God is dispenser.” READ Eliphaz Job 4:7-11… there is always a reason for suffering, Eliphaz says. Job is suffering therefore means Job deserves it. (BTW, today we celebrate communion, Jesus Christ was without sin. Yet he died. “Who was ever punished that was innocent”, Job’s friends ask… little did he know that this is a prophetic question, pointing centuries later to Jesus Christ on the cross).
Suffering is sometimes true as a consequence of bad behavior, stick your hand in fire and it does burn… but if this answer is applied as a blanket for all situations then it is hollow. we know from the beginning chapters that Job is innocent, and does not deserve his bruised heart as a direct consequence of his own actions… Job refuses to accept the hollow answer that his loss of property/health/family is a consequence of his sin. He refuses to cave to his friends counsel. Yet it is a common way of thinking…
I am going to try and tell this story gently, so as not to make you wince. I went into one young man’s room and he had a bandage on his eye. He was changing a bicycle tire and the screwdriver flung and hit his eye. To me, this was a morally neutral accident. What did I talk about for an hour with this young man? He was sure God was punishing him because he turned away from God. Sounds like Jobs friend Eliphaz. Chances are there are some in this room that believe you did something wrong and the result is a bruised heart. You believe the pain is your fault. And you are holding back growing closer to God, you are refusing a renewed spirit because you don’t think you deserve wholeness. Maybe something you did really did compromise your life, but God never intended for unending torment that keeps you in a state of self loathing.
I have talked to people who believe in God, but they cannot accept grace, “God cannot forgive me”, real or imagined sins…. Regardless of the source of your pain, God wants you to seek him and to find wholeness, the Lord wants you to be redeemed – that’s what the cross is all about. Working through the hollow answer is a part of the process of healing….its tempting to want to be punished forever, to live a life of mediocrity because you deserve it, but God is reaching out to you. You cannot give in to the idea that because of your sin, you must suffer forever. God is a God of grace and mercy.
The reason Eliphaz is so frustrating to Job is NOT because he is completely WRONG, it’s because it doesn’t fit Job…The reason we admire Job so much is because even in his great weakness, he had a faith that kept searching, / striving… he never gave up, he would not accept hollow answers…
The strength of Job is found in his answer to Eliphaz: READ Job 6:8-13. The Message translates Job 8:12 this way: “Let God step on me – squash me like a bug…” Job sarcastically draws a logical conclusion. “If suffering forever is really the answer I don’t see it so just smash me and get it over” Some of us have thought similar thoughts: It may not be the most sound thoughts – just take me now God, but is it part of healing!
Bildad has another twist on the same answer for Job. : “You won’t admit you sinned, so God is sending more suffering.” His name means, “Son of Contention.” Here’s Bildad’s reasoning, starting with the premise that Job is suffering: a) God does not mess up (Job 8:3), b) Job’s children deserved death (Job 8:4), c) so the only way to stop suffering is to turn back to God (the rest of Job 8).
Why do we suffer? According to Bildad, God punishes the wicked with suffering. Job is suffering. Therefore, God is punishing Job for wickedness. If Job will repent of his wickedness, God will remove the punishment and suffering.
I really like Job’s answer: “the problem with your answer, Bildad, is that I can never be good enough for God.” (Job 9:2-3.) This is why we like Job. He has a lot of wisdom. If we depend on our goodness to stay away from suffering, then we can never be good enough. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, is famous for trying such a tactic. It is said that he would go to the priest for hours, haunted by his sinful nature, and confess his sins in minute detail, and he never found satisfaction. The priests tried to get him to go away, but he could never find relief. The problem with Bildad: we can never be good enough for God in order to avoid punishment.
Sally and I walked out of concert once, about a year before we were married. Sally suffers from headaches, she has as long as I have known her (?) It was a Christian concert. At intermission the band started preaching, “If you don’t have a job, if you are struggling, if you are sick, if you have headaches, it is because you don’t have enough faith…” What a horrible message! We walked out. The message was painful. If my faith is the key to give me a problem free life, then I am in a heap of trouble, because I can never be good enough. Yes, we are called to live victoriously, but it is inspite of our human infirmities…
Another wrongheaded idea: Zophar: “Your sin is so bad you deserve more suffering.” His name means, “Rough.” Job 11:8-11…”be thankful you don’t have a lot more suffering, be grateful this is the only thing bad that has happened to you.” Zophar is the Eyore of the Bible. “Thanks for noticing me.” Eyore, the donkey in Winnie the pooh, is lovable for his personality type: don’t expect happiness and be thankful things aren’t worse. Eyore is settled in mediocrity. Zophar tells Job to just accept his unhappy lot in life and be thankful it’s not worse. Now what if I went around Sumas with that message: “O, you just had surgery, be thankful, it could be worse.” … It’s a defensive mechanism: be prepared for bad things because that is what happens. “If I didn’t have any bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” Never expecting anything good.
God has called SACC to serve Sumas and the Nooksack Valley in this place and at this time. One of our great callings is to refuse to give up on people, letting them settle for a life of mediocrity. Job refuses hollow answers. He cannot accept a life of suffering and pain as the best God has to offer. We are called to live with Joy and Victory, to rise above our pain and bruised hearts. God wants all people to live a life of awe of God, amazement, peace and contentment, a life that rises above our pains and bruised hearts.
Job 12 is a wonderful chapter in which Job dismisses the shallow answers of his friends who say, “you are suffering because you sinned,” “if you just have enough faith you’ll live happily everafter,” “just accept your fate because it could be worse.” He dismisses the shallow answers, noticing that the wicked live at ease (Job 12:6)… and Job looks straight to God: (Job 12:10). Job is looking across a chasm he has no idea how to cross, yet he sees God on the other side. The answer is God, and God’s providence: (Job 12:13-20). This is faith, believing in God when you don’t have the foggiest idea how he is going to provide an answer. In God We Trust. Job only saw a chasm, with himself on one side with his pain and suffering, and on the other he saw God. That’s faith: believing God can provide a way across.
The beginning of healing is to reject the hollow answers, which always lead to mediocrity and apathy. An unreal existence. God wants so much more for you. He wants you to be a whole person, he wants you to find peace and satisfaction. Even if you cannot see a bridge, believe in God and his wisdom, his righteousness. If I dare to summarize Job’s faith at this point: God is bigger than my problems. (Amen?).
What we see on this side of the cross of Jesus Christ is the way across the chasm Job could not see. In God’s timing, the way is made clear. We are separated from God, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). Eliphaz was right that we are all sinners, what he failed to see is that the major consequence of sin is not bad things that happen to us on this earth, it is separation from God.
Job, by faith, never let go of his vision of God across the chasm, but what he could not see is that Jesus Christ provided the way to God: Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, paying the penalty for our sin and bridging the gap between God and people. "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God..." (I Peter 3:18) "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).
Bildad told Job he needed more faith and all would be well, but Job rejected that easy answer. I cannot have enough faith, for I will never be good enough. Job did not know what God would do, but he had faith believing God would do something. God provides the way through Jesus Christ.
Job also rejected the hollow answer of Zophar, just stay on this side of the chasm away from God and be grateful you aren’t cast even further away. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)
When your heart is bruised, when you are hurting, depressed, angry, confused, doubting, searching, take a page out of Job’s book and refuse to accept the hollow answers, the answers that don’t ring true. Job did not immediately see the bridge to span the chasm between himself and God, but he did see God. Hang on to that vision. The Lord wants you to find peace, he wants you to find acceptance, he offers forgiveness. Jesus Christ is the way.