Archives For Job

The biblical character Job endured more suffering than most people will ever experience. The “Satan” works a couple of deals with God, an act we may never understand fully, and inflicts unimaginable suffering on Job by destroying his children, his livestock and ultimately his physical body. Job’s three friends (four if you count Elihu) and mourn with Job for seven days and seven nights. Then commences the part of the book of Job that most people don’t read: the dialogue section of poetry in Job 3-42:6. Immediately in the first speech of one of Job’s friends (Eliphaz) we are introduced to an apparently prevalent belief system in the Ancient Near East. After hearing Job curse the day he was born and a desire to go back where he came Eliphaz says this:

Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. (Job 4:7-9; NRSV)

What Eliphaz introduces to Job in a tactless manner is what we call the Doctrine of Retribution.

DOCTRINE OF RETRIBUTION: Those who do good things in this world will reap wonderful rewards from God but those who do bad things in this world will suffer.

This is a shortened version of a more complicated definition but I think this best summarizes the doctrine. Paul talks about this doctrine a little bit in his letter to the Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:7-9; ESV).

If we are honest, many of us are bent this way when it comes to the Christian life. When bad things happen to us we assume it is because we are doing bad things or transversely when good things happen to us we assume it is because we have prayed right, attended church right and read our bibles. The entire book of Job is a quest for one man to reconcile the fact that he has done every pious thing he could think of and has withheld evil from his house and still he is suffering. If you pay attention to the dialogue I think both sides are struggling with the doctrine. One says he has done all good and does not deserve this evil (I agree in that no person deserves suffering) and the other says he is experiencing evil therefore he must have done something wrong. A verse from Torah reminds us of this type of thinking:

But if you do not do this, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Num. 32:23; NRSV)

I want to write a mini-series on this doctrine and hope to give you some biblical wisdom to shed light on the subject. I believe there are formidable ramifications to this doctrine and our youth and churches will be in serious tension if we do not stifle this type of thinking. Here is the outline

  • Introduction
  • It’s Ramifications
  • It’s Opponent
  • It’s Truth
  • Doctrine of Retribution Glorification

“The journey of every human being begins in the mother’s womb, with life defined not by possessions but by intimate dependence on the one who gives life itself.  It ends in the womb of the grave, where one is stripped of possessions and intimately reconnected with ‘mother earth’.  There are no exceptions; every life must move between these two boundaries.”

Samuel E. Balatine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys: 2006): 57.

Birth to Death – Every Man’s Journey

I find myself working through the book of Job again and I read a quote from a commentary that pierced me through the heart. 

“When this story is translated into the liturgy offered to those who gather for worship in synagogues and churches, the tension is removed, the possibilities for addressing God are reduced, and the definition of what constitutes authentic faith is thinned: one may praise but not lament, trust but not doubt, affirm but not question.  If this generalization has merit, then our entry into the book of Job will likely require a serious rethinking of its message for the Jobs of this world.  If they were to sit beside us on the pew, would the songs we sing, the creeds we recite, the prayers we pray, or the sermons we preach provide any more comfort for them than Job;s biblical friends offered to him?”  Samuel E. Balentine, Job (Smyth & Helwys), p. 24. 

Let that quote sink in for a little bit.  We talk about how miserable Job’s friends were in providing comfort but juxtapose that with how we provide comfort to the same individuals who are suffering and we too may turn out to be an Eliphaz, a Bildad, a Zophar and an Elihu.  Perhaps this calls us to change how we worship, what we say and how we pray.  Maybe this is a call to us to lament more and show that mourning has its proper place in ancient worship.  Perhaps there are Jobs in all of our congregations looking at us and proclaiming, “MISERABLE COMFORTERS ARE YOU ALL” (Job 16:2).

Materialism Quote

August 31, 2010 — Leave a comment

Thought you might enjoy this rather long quote from a most wonderful book I am reading called The Radical Disciple by Dr. John Stott. 

Matierialism-a preoccupation with material things-can smother our spiritual life.  Jesus told us not to store up treasure on earth and warned us against covetousness.  So did the apostle Paul, urging us instead to develop a lifestyle of simplicity, generosity and contentment, drawing on his own experience of having learned to be content in whatever circumstances he was (Philippians 4:11).  Paul added that “godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6), and then went on to explain that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  Perhaps he was consciously echoing Job who said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21).  In other words, life on earth is a brief pilgrimage between two moments of nakedness.  So we would be wise to travel light.  (20-21). 

As you well know I have had a temporary retreat from blogging.  It was due to a week-long class I took at Lipscomb and also I just wanted to step away for a little.  I decided not to continue the Living with and without campaign because I felt a little Pharasaical for doing it.  Like I wanted attention or something so I quit doing that. 

I am preaching a series of lessons each week surrounding the concept of helping each other and God helping us.  It has been both an eye-opening and ego-humbling experience.  It is for a class at Lipscomb and I have asked a few people to anonymously critique my sermon content, delivery, etc.  It is humbling what people say under the auspices of anonymity.  however, it is needed criticism as sometimes preachers think they know it all…just when you think you do…get critiqued. 

Samuel Edward is doing well but has been unusually fussy these few days.  Madelyn wakes up every night and comes in our bed and the night before Amelia wet her bed.  Life with 4 kids is challenging. 

I came across this verse for my daily devotional and how appropriate it is for perspective: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job. 2:10).  Not that what is happening in my life is evil, but just challenging.  Adversity is the pill of those who triumph in Christ.

Blind Faith?

December 17, 2009 — Leave a comment

Have you ever heard someone bring a statement in a conversation stating Christians believe in a blind faith?  I don’t blame them!  Why should I?  When it comes to the message of God bring proclaimed I am not all convinced that we (myself included) have done a great job at this.  The un-churched (if that’s even a good term to use) receive messages from Christians that are inconsistent and downright contrary.  “Robbie, how can a man show up to services on Sunday morning yet, during the week, lie behind my back in an effort to climb the company ladder?”  This person made a good point.  I heard a teenage boy tell me one time, “How can a girl say she is a Christian when she wears all of these revealing clothes?”  Good point. 

They all make good points but these are all sideline issues.  These issues are the results of what people do with the faith and not the faith itself.  Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  There is nothing wrong with the commandments themselves but it is up those who walk by faith to keep those commandments.  The Pharisees kept the commandments very well yet they had a heart issue that kept them from authentic discipleship (Mark 7:1-23).  So it is nothing wrong with the faith only the follower.  

“Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he’s actually saving us.  Here he was turning Abraham (talking about Genesis 22) into a great man-but on the outside it looked like God was being cruel.  To follow God in such circumstances seems to some to be ‘blind faith,’ but actually it is vigorous, grateful faith.  the bible is filled with stories of figures such as Joseph, Moses, and David in which God seemed to have abandoned them, but later it is revealed he was dealing with the destructive idols in their lives and that could only have come to pass through their experience of difficulty” (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 20). 

I have come to realize that the real issue with people is not believing in the faith itself but coming to grips with bad life experiences and reconciling that with the character of God.  We have so much “stuff” and that stuff gets in the way of our trust, love and belief in God.  But faith is not blind when you reconcile what God has done in your life.  This, I have noticed, does not come easy.  Nor did it for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Jeremiah and Jesus.

(Click here to catch up on the Job series to get a contextual feel of where I am at)

Have you ever received bad advice?  I know I have been guilty of giving bad advice and as a minister it is almost impossible to avoid the peril of “advice-giving.” So many people seek it and many times I find myself at a loss of wisdom and guidance and all I can do is pray.  The more I read Job the more I am impressed with this man who endured so much at the hands of the Accuser and at the hands of his four friends.  It says that the Accuser did not test Job anymore but I wonder if Job’s three friends are some type of manifestation of the Accuser in human form.  In other words, are we seeing an ongoing “test” of sorts where the Accuser manifests himself in four different entities in an effort to “try” Job and prove that he will eventually curse God.  I don’t think there is any textual evidence for this theory nor have I read any scholar who has introduced it but it is neat to think about nonetheless. 

Eliphaz’s Wednesday Night Invitation (Job 5)

After “knowing” Job’s issue of suffering because of a vision he received, Eliphaz now moves to offer the invitation sermon for Job to repent from his foolish ways lest he spend an eternity in hell…ok, harsh generalization but you get the main concept.  Eliphaz drops a few subtle hints at how he feels about Job as he says he is jealous (verse 2) and a fool (verse 3).  They are subtle in that he is talking about situations he has seen in his past but he is applying those same situations and the implication is that Job is acting the same way.  Keep in mind that the driving question that leads Eliphaz is 4:17 and his assumption that a mortal man cannot be right or pure before God.  So he has to prove otherwise.  Eliphaz says, “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (verses 6-7).  So he urges Job to “seek God” (verse eight) who can do so many things beyond our comprehension and ability (verses 9-16).  But he also does something that strikes me as amazing: he essentially tells him to rejoice in the fact that he gets to suffer (“reprove”)!  “Job, you should be glad that God is correcting you!”  Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase says this pf verse 17, “So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you!”  Then Eliphaz caps off his invitation with this, “Behold, this we have searched out; it is true.  Hear, and know it for your good” (verse 27).  Paraphrase: “Trust me on this Job.  I have looked everywhere and I know the answer so do what I say because it is for your own good!” 

Job’s MySpace Status Reads: “Confused” (Job 6)

Job wants answers too you know: “Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off” (verses 8-9).  Yet there is no fundamental cause (that he knows) for his suffering.  I mean the man did everything he possible could to love god and love others (seemed to work for Jesus in Matt. 22:37-39).  Disgusted with Eliphaz’s diatribe Job points to the obvious and that his friends are (at this point) acting foolish and are speaking only to be heard.  “My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away” (verse 15).  The ESV study Bible had a neat comment on “torrent-bed”:

A torrent-bed is a wadi, a depression or rift in the rocks that gathers water from cloudbursts or melting ice, which races down the slope.  Desert travelers could not carry sufficient water; they depended on rains or melting snow, which quickly dried up in the hot sun. (pp. 881-82) 

Job’s conclusion is that his words are harsh and have no sustenance in them.  They were there to comfort him not to give endless explanations for his sufferings.  Job does want solutions (so he is willing to listen to them to a point it seems) but he is convinced that the only solutions come from God. 

Lessons Learned

With much of the speech sections of Job I find myself called to pay attention to what I say and how I say it.  James was right in pointing out that our tongues are a consuming fire (James 3) and sometimes that fire spreads uncontrollably.  I am also called to pay attention to how I posit God and his providence.  Each time I go through Job I am always in question of God and why this was done to such a good man and why there was so much, to use a PC American term, collateral damage.  God’s ways are not our ways, neither are his thoughts our thoughts and for that I submit  to an Anselmian position of fides quaerens intellectum or faith seeking understanding.  Lord I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!

Questions for Reflection

  1. What applications does Eliphaz’s urge for Job to repent have on members of the churches of Christ? 
  2. Do you think it is fair to criticize Eliphaz so harshly?  Why or Why not?
  3. What are your reactions to Job’s reply? 
  4. What would you say to Job in an effort to comfort him?

A lady in our congregation recently lost her husband and I remember visiting her during the process of hospice and waiting for him to die.  There was nothing I could say to comfort her or to erase the pain she was encountering.  The day he passed I remember walking in the house and just going up to her and hugging her.  She wept in my arms and I said nothing.  What do you say to someone who just lost their best friend?  Nothing.  I did not offer trite words like “God loves you,” or, “He’s in a better place now,” because I knew deep down that those would not help her.  I said nothing. 

Job’s three friends (four counting Elihu in chapters 32-37) traveled a great distance to be with him and mourn with him.  Different cultures (and religions) have different practices when it comes to mourning.  In Protestant White America (generally speaking) most of the mourning is done quietly and very personally where as in African-American culture (generally speaking) mourning is much more communal and is very vocal and participatory (wailing, etc.).  These friends are sharing the current Ancient Near Eastern practices of the time and even the rudimentary Jewish customs of mourning.  Simply put: they are with their grieving brother. 

Why God?  Why?  (Job 3)

Chapter 3 is split into 2 (normally 3) sections: Job’s Curse (vv. 1-13) and his Lament (vv. 14-26).  We are quick to question Job’s motives for cursing his birth (what Hartley calls a counter-cosmic incantation) but let me remind you that until we walk in the shoes of the bereaved, we should be very careful how we analyze their behaviors.  Simply put: Job wants all recognition of his life to end.  One can see the parallels of his experience with his curse of his birth:

  • “Darkness” (v. 4)
  • “Nor light” (v. 4)
  • “Gloom” (v. 5)
  • “Deep Darkness”  (v. 5)
  • “Clouds” (v. 5)
  • “Blackness of the day” (v. 5)
  • “Thick Darkness” (v. 6)

We could go on but you get the picture.  The picture is, well, dark and gloomy.  Nothing makes sense to Job so he curses his life to be removed from the pain he is enduring.  So much so…that he laments.  5 times in verses 11-26 (11, 12, 16, 20, 23) Job begins with the question, “Why?”  That’s a most interesting question isn’t it?  Clearly he is lamenting at the why’s of his situation but still going back to his previous message about his birth. 

He searches for meaning…but finds none. 

Retribution 101: you get what you deserve (Job 4)

Eliphaz speaks and you will notice that each friend feels like he or she is an expert on things.  All of them point towards a modified retribution theory because nothing else makes sense.  “Job, you a clearly getting what you deserve BECAUSE you have done _____________.”  You fill in the blank.  Eliphaz paints a grim picture but does so because he could not resist in speaking to Job’s situation (4:2-6).  The two driving questions come from 4:7-8 and 4:17: 


Lessons Learned:

Something that spoke to me is that we should never try to question someone in the grieving process.  Their thinking may be off and may be incorrect but it is what they are going through and we must simply allow them to hurt even if it means going against God (not implying that is what Job is doing only making a statement about what some people do).  

Secondly, there is a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to say something and a time to stay quiet.  Something I would not say to someone who is grieving, “You are impatient” (4:5).  Why do the righteous suffer?  Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?  We may never know in our finitude until we reach the infinitude of God.  that is the embedded question for theology thursdays.  One things I am still earning is this: if you think you have the answer to somebody’s problem you better rethink it because you really do not have a clue. 

Questions for Thought

  1. What are you reactions to Job’s intense curse and lament in chapter 3? 
  2. Have you ever felt like Job before?
  3. In what ways can we empathize with Eliphaz speaking the things he did?
  4. What are your thoughts about divine retribution (aka getting what we deserve)? 

I look forward to next week when we consider Eliphaz’s encouragment for Job to repent and Job’s reply!  Stay tuned!

Today I begin a 21 week Journey in the book of Job on Thursdays.  I am walking through the bible and on Thursdays I am studying the genre of poetry and so the first book is Job.  Thursdays will also be entitled “Theology Thursday” (an idea I stole from Small Town Youth Pastor) and will delve into things maybe a little deeper and more difficult to understand.  My hope and prayer is to probe your thinking and to challenge myself a little. 

A lot is occuring in this book and I do not have the time nor the space to introduce the Book of Job or even Hebrew Poetry for that matter.  I recommend John Hartley’s Commentary on Job for those issues. 

Today is Job 1-2 and a lot hit me this morning as I thought about what to write and what to think about and the more I do think about it the more I feel compelled to pray.  Pray about the unknowns and pray about the difficulties of life and the many “Job-esk” people who are out in this world right now.  So maybe before we start “theologizing,” it might be good to first of all do some “praying.” 

All is Lost (Job 1)

You cannot paint a more pious picture of a man than one painted of Job in 1:1-5.  how many of you fathers go to God not knowing if they have sinner but just in case you go anyways?  On top of that he was blameless, upright, feared God and turned away from evil.  You could argue that every aspect of Job was righteous.  If there was ever a man in Scripture who could be just like Jesus…Job was that man! 

1:6-12 is hard for me.  It is unfair from the standpoint of things unknown to me.  The bad part is that this divine encounter between Satan (the Adversary) and God is unannounced to Job.  He has no clue that his whole world is going to crumble.  While he is eating dinner, talking about life and laughing there is a storm at the door waiting to take everything he has!  Satan does this because he thinks it is so easy for Job to be like this because God, of course, has “hedged him in.” 

I feel the same way you know…it is pretty easy to worship God in America being hedged in by “freedoms” of religion.  In some aspects I feel Satan tempting all of us in that way. 

Job loses it all in 1:13-19.  We blink and we suffer in a moment’s time.  Suffering is not racist, sexist, judgmental and is probably the best example of an Equal Opportunity Employer.  Job’s response?  Mourning and prayer.  Job embodies both!

All is Really Lost (Job 2)

Murphy’s Law may not have been so named in Biblical times but the concept was alive and well.  Job’s health was attacked as a last ditch effort by Satan (who, by the way, is not mentioned at all after this in the book…why is that?).  Job won but at a cost…everything.  Job’s wife (Mrs. Job?) receives a bad reputation of which I think is unfair.  Keep in mind she lost her children too.  Keep in mind she lost all the money and the livestock too.  Keep in mind that the man she loved, the man she has shared intimate moments with, the man who she has slept with nightly for many years is now in physical, spiritual and emotional agony!  Cut her some slack.  Foolish…yes…but I would probably do the same thing if I lost Kaleb, Amelia, Madelyn and saw my wife in physical torture.  Cut her some slack. 

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar…friends who were willing to sit with him and agonize (see picture above).  Watching your friends go through pain is not an easy task.  I have a friend right now who is going through an incredible amount of torture and it is so hard for me to say anything so I am simply compelled to sit and be with him. 

“For they saw his suffering was great…”

Literally in Hebrew, “For they saw the abundant pain grow!”

You may know of people who struggle and all we can do is pray for them and be with them.  We see their pain and…we weep.  No words…just weeping. 

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do we reconcile a God of love who allows something this painful to happen?
  2. In what ways can we place ourselves in Job’s context?
  3. What characteristics does Job have that call us to amazement? 
  4. What can we learn from Satan in this context?
  5. What are some things you are going through right now?
  6. Who do you need to reach out to right now to help?

Hope this blesses you!