Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tragedy Navigation Skills: Job 3-28

There's nothing like a big ol' crisis to put things in to perspective and to show you what you're made of. Looking back through an old journal tonight, I discovered a quote I wrote down years ago, just something jotted down that now seems perfect as we look at the book of Job:

It's what happens when your cup is shaken that matters, because what spills out is the core of who you are.

It's so true, isn't it? In our lives it's mostly small things - moments in traffic or in conversation when someone completely cuts you off, when that telemarketer calls after 9 p.m., when we didn't get our way in some matter, when our husbands or children leave a trail of dirty clothes all through the house again, or someone breaks or takes something that belongs to us - it is then that all our claims to godliness and morality are tested. On more rare occasions, it is when we receive news of illness or tragedy or death or great loss that our beliefs and values are put to the test.

Job shows us that great reverence and devotion are the contents in his cup when he responds to the shock of losing his family, health and financial security by honoring and bowing to God's decision. What an amazing and unexpected response!

But what about after the shock wears off? What happens to us when we have to live that new reality out, day in, day out, week after week? Job 3 tells us the answer. Here are a few verses that paint the picture of Job's countenance after living with the loss of his family, his estate, and his pride for some time:

v 11
Why did I not die at birth
come forth from the womb and expire?

v 20-26 
Why is light given to him who suffers
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden and whom God has hedged in?
For my groaning comes at the sight of my food
And my cries pour out like water
For what I fear comes upon me
And what I dread befalls me
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.

Job's former worshipful demeanor has dissolved into an utter despair. From the selected verses above it is easy to observe that he longs for death, he wishes he had never been born, and he feels utterly trapped. His every worst fear has actually happened to him. The whole of the chapter contains a theme of darkness, and in it we find that Job has utterly lost hope.

The pain was so intense that he couldn't even speak for seven days. We know the way that feels, don't we? When the visitors go home, when we are alone, when we have spent months in or by a hospital bed, we analyze and stew on things, we mull over and replay scenarios repeatedly in the theater of our minds, fixating on them. We go through a full range of emotions – anger, guilt, sadness, indignance, a strange aloof giddiness sometimes, laughter, tears. And for Job, this was all inward as he sat on his ash heap. But after some time had passed, what comes out is Chapter 3, this cry of protest.

Job's outburst ignites a whole series of discussions from the three friends who came to his side at the onset of the horric events. From Chapter 4 all the way through 28, we are going to get to eavesdrop on the conversation. At the onset, we think, hey, they must have been pretty good friends to drop everything to come be by Job's side in his time of need. How often are we "too busy" or even indifferent to the suffering of our friends around us? At least these guys showed up. But in this dialogue, we are going to discover some major errors on the part of these friends, enabling us to learn "what not to do" when you find yourself as the consult of someone in a situation like Job's. We are going to see friendships sour and tempers flare over a theological debate at an emotional time.

I want to share the general outline of their conversation because it makes it so much easier to process when we can see it from this "aerial" perspective:

The Debate Begins: Round 1:
Job 4-5 – Friend #1 Eliphaz first speech
Job 6-7 – Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 8 – Friend #2 Bildad’s first speech
Job 9-10 – Job’s response to Bildad
Job 11 – Friend #3 Zophar first speech
Job 12-14 – Job’s response to Zophar (though He slay me, I will hope in Him)

Round 2 of the Debates:
Job 15 – Eliphaz Second Speech
Job 16-17 Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 18 – Bildad’s Second Speech
Job 19 – Job’s response to Bildad
Job 20 – Zophar’s Second Speech
Job 21 – Job’s response to Zophar

Round 3 of the Debates:
Job 22 – Eliphaz Third Speech
Job 23-24 – Job’s response to Eliphaz
Job 25 – Bildad’s Third Speech
Job 26-27 – Job’s response to Bildad
The three rounds of debate end without Zophar speaking again.

Notice that the conversation goes in order, around and around three times. As you read, you'll find that all three friends have essentially the same argument, and Job holds firm to his same defense. No new information will come forth, through all these chapters. What are their arguments? Let's take a look at the words of Eliphaz, who first articulates them:

Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?
According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it

But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
Who does great and unsearchable things
Wonders without number

Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty
For He inflicts pain, and gives relief
He wounds, and His hands also heal…

Behold this, we have investigated it, and so it is. Hear it, and know it for yourself.

Wow, what a great, biblical answer we read here in Chapters 4-5. If Job would just own it and ask for forgiveness and stop being so wicked, his situation would improve. How hastily Eliphaz diagnoses Job's problem. In verse 27 he seems to say, there, I've told you your problem, now let's be done with it."

Now let me say right here, these are not anti-biblical statements. The Lord does discipline, chastise, judge and punish. To not recognize that as part of His character is just inaccurate. When God (YHVH) reveals himself to Moses, here is how He describes himself:

The LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

The LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD! the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth,

keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children's children, on the third and on the fourth generation."
Exodus 34:6-7

The problem wasn't that Eliphaz's statements were incorrect. Sometimes we do experience divine discipline. No, what makes his assertions faulty is that they were misapplied and given without mercy and kindness. While these are very true statements, in this case they were not true about Job. And even if they were, they sure do sound shallow in the face of such depth of pain, don’t they? "Oh just take your problems to God. Don't resist God's punishment. God is sovereign." I know I've said these things to people dealing with loss. And they are true. But we must be careful not to just spit out religious dogma and in doing that, oversimplify what is happening. A shallow, dogmatic, religious response to deep pain is not a comfort - and it repels people. Like Eliphaz, sometimes we just feel we must say something. But if that's all you've got, then it is absolutely okay - and probably better - to just keep your mouth closed!

Also, we must not forget the humanity and love when we counsel or reprove. Job was completely without hope at this moment. What did it profit him to hear Eliphaz's words? Notice, Eliphaz had already condemned Job, right from the start, when that really wasn't his job. We must remember that we cannot discern the hearts of men, we cannot know where they stand with God and we cannot know the whole story. We should be very careful when diagnosing someone's spiritual state. We cannot rightly determine what they deserve. Our job is to speak the truth in love. Eliphaz just skipped over the love part and became a judge, speaking the truth he knew.

Lastly, notice Eliphaz's impatience with Job. It is as if he says, "Okay, Job. Here's the solution to your problem. You're welcome. Now, let's move on." It takes time for such loss and pain to be dealt with. You cannot rush healing, and people are not going to come to grips with their pain on your terms or because of your great words. Be patient in dealing with others in their tragedies - it's not about you!

What Eliphaz has decided makes sense to him - and what all three friends will argue - is that SIN brings about SUFFERING. Job, on the other hand, has a different take on things in Chapters 6-7:

Would that God were willing to crush me,
That He would loose is hand and cut me off!
But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain
That I have NOT denied the words of the Holy One

In other words, Job will stand by his conviction that he is innocent, and so sin alone, then, cannot be the only cause of suffering, it has to be something else.

“Have I sinned? What have I done to You,
O watcher of men?
Why then do you not pardon my transgression
And take away my iniquity?

Job concludes his response with a prayer, and we will find that he regularly consults the Lord in his speeches. Job is keeping the lines of communication with God open in his time of suffering. When we experience hardship, do we close our hearts in anger to the Lord? Or do we continue to petition Him for a response, for comfort, and for restoration? Job is a great model for us in this.

And so the battle begins, both sides having declared their point of view. As you read through the arguments you will find that the discussion increases in intensity. It becomes personal and below the belt. These "friends" of Job begin to attack Job, to assault the memory of his children, to trash his character and his reputation. They become so upset that the speeches become increasingly short, until at the end Zophar cannot even answer any longer.

Why do you think Job's friends become so upset by what he says? Why does it become so personal? Have you ever had a disagreement with a friend or family member about a religious viewpoint? There is a reason why discussing this in public is so taboo. People fiercly protect their own beliefs, and it becomes emotional because what you believe often threatens the foundation of their beliefs. That is what is happening here. Job's friends hold fast to the same belief: SIN causes SUFFERING – they cannot conceive that Job has not brought this on himself because if he hasn't, everything that they believe is now on shaky foundation. If Job experiences suffering while innocent, then they also could be subject to it as well, and that definitely not something they are prepared to accept. Their whole understanding of God and His justice system are being challenged. We would be wise to recognize that much of what is behind religious arguments is fear - and that is certainly what is at play here with Job's friends. This is why they become more and more agitated, angry and finally cruel to him.

Job, on the other hand, experiences a metamorphosis in these arguments. The hopeless Job of Chapter 3 learns to defend his faith and His beliefs about God. He learns to hold to the truths he knows.

I am guiltless
I do not take notice of myself

I despise my life (humility

It is all one; therefore I say

Time and time again, Job reasserts his statement. While he does not know why it is happening to him, he knows that he is righteous before God and withholds no secret or great sin. And he observes in the world that there are wicked people who flourish and righteous people who suffer. So their theology must be flawed in some way.

Then Job responded
Truly then you are the people,
And with you wisdom will die!
But I have intelligence as well as you;
I am not inferior to you
And who does not know such things as these?
I am a joke to my friends
The one who called on God and He answered him;
The just and blameless man is a joke
He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt
As prepared for those whose feet slip.
The tents of the destroyers prosper
And those who provoke God are secure
Whom God brings into their power.

"the misled and the misleader belong to Him”

The more Job's friends assert his guilt, the more strength he seems to find in refuting them. While the arguments of his friends diminish due to agitation and lack of new proof, Job seems to become stronger and stronger in his argument until finally, in Chapter 13, we see the pinnacle of Job's statements and a breakthrough for him:

Be silent before me so that I may speak;
Then let come on me what may.
Why should I take my flesh in my teeth
And put my life in my hands?
Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him
Nevertheless I will argue my ways
Before him
This also will be my salvation,
For a godless man may not come before His presence
Listen carefully to my speech
And let my declaration fill your ears
Behold now, I have prepared my case;
I know that I will be vindicated

Now isn't that amazing. What renewed strength and hope we find here, in such contrast to the Job of Chapter 3. How is this possible? Certainly he draws his strength from the conviction of being living proof of them. But there is more at work here. Sometimes it is not until moments where our faith is really tested that we see what it is we are made of. What cause did Job ever have to question his beliefs when he lived in perfect security? How would he ever know what He was really made of until he was proved and tested? Though Job hasn’t quite got everything worked out, he has grown in this process. He has proven himself loyal, even without great blessing. He has gained confidence and strength as one able to defend His faith. He has found great reserves of strength within, overcoming a desire for death to hope in God's vindication. He has shown that there is more to his heart that religious dogma or rhetoric. He has a relationship with the Living God, and that gives him great hope. I wonder if in that moment he surprised himself with what was really within him. Such resolve could not have been known by Job until he walked through this battle.

I wonder, what is God trying to awaken, reveal and prove in us in our own adversity? Will we resist challenges and refuse the gain of the beautiful gifts within us that God wants to bring to the surface?

Truths We Can Take Away 

On Counseling a Suffering Friend

Its easy to make the suffering of others about you – it’s not! Don’t take it personally.

You don’t have to say anything. Your presence shows your support. 

Temper what you say with LOVE.

Don’t assume guilt or deservedness.

Don’t throw doctrines at people and assume you can fix it. Healing is a process.

On Suffering

There are things within you that God knows can only surface in the face of adversity  that will ultimately bring him glory. Trust him.

Never back down from stating truth or lose confidence in who you are because of your circumstances. Keep seeking, trustin and obeying. He will not forsake you.

Model Job's willingness to continue to consult God during tragedy. Do not close your heart because you are hurting. God will provide healing, and answers.

On Theology - A Word For Us All

How are you when your boat is rocked? Defensiveness communicates insecurity. Know that you know. Don’t react and argue -  seek and know for sure.

Suffering is not always caused by sin – sometimes it happens, as Jesus taught, so that God can be glorified through your life.

God is never in the wrong, and it’s all about Him. When we assume or declare that his actions are wrong or unfair, we are in a dangerous place.

As believers, we should not be surprised by suffering or ever think we are exempt from it. We should take it as an opportunity to serve and glorify God, to live out a very Christ-like call.

A doctrine or set of beliefs will not get you through a crisis - a relationship with The Living God through Jesus Christ will. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @AmandaTadlock