You will be protected from the lash of the tongue, and need not fear when destruction comes. You will laugh at destruction and famine, and need not fear the beasts of the earth.
Right Words, Wrong Reasoning
The Book of Job is one of the toughest books in the Bible because it’s the most blatant example of the “what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this” scenario. Everybody knows the set-up and has a vague idea—or at least presumes—that it all works out in the end. But the middle section, a long conversation between Job and three friends, is rough going. After Satan taunts God, saying He has no truly faithful servants on Earth, God retorts, “What about Job?”. Without Job knowing it, He lifts His protection so evil can run amok. Job loses everything—his fields, his livestock, his family, and his health—in a series of disasters. He sinks into an ash heap and wonders how his entire reality has shattered into shards of misery. Three of his friends drop by to commiserate with him and try to help him correct his course back to prosperous, happier days. This is where things get fuzzy
Job’s friends say a lot of right words, but their reasoning is wrong. They can’t conceive any other cause for his sudden misfortune than he’s sinned against God. They advise Job to search his conscience, identify his error, and repent. The first friend, Eliphaz, launches into a two-chapter discourse urging Job to stop living in denial: “You’ve always helped others with your wisdom. Now you don’t know what to do. Shouldn’t you trust your own advice?” (Job 4.4-6) Job’s not buying this. He’s done nothing wrong. In the next chapter, Eliphaz tries a different tactic, shoring up Job’s confidence in God’s mercy. “He’s the only One you can turn to, Job,” he says. “If you appeal to Him, He’ll restore everything you’ve lost and protect you from future disasters.” Although Eliphaz completely misjudges Job’s situation, we shouldn’t ignore his counsel altogether, because his points still hold validity.
With each passing day, I’m more stunned by all the Jobs walking among us—people who suffer unconscionable hardship and loss through no fault of their own. And for many of them, it’s not just one hard season of getting knocked down; they cycle through traumatic losses over and over. They grow so exhausted and apprehensive they stay on the lookout for the next wave, always wondering what else will happen to pull out the rug from under them. There’s no reasoning with God or themselves about this, and suspicions rise that God’s vanished completely, He’s either stopped caring or never really cared about them, and there’s no use trusting Him. But asking what else can possibly go wrong leads to a much more crucial question: Who else can we turn to?
“Call if you will, but who will answer you? To which of the holy ones will you turn?” Eliphaz asks Job at the start of chapter 5. Uncertainty of God’s concern and power only confirms our certainty that no other power has the authority and wisdom to remedy our situation. The moment we start believing God’s left us alone is the moment we should realize He’s our only hope. Resenting God is foolish, Eliphaz explains in the next few verses, because it leads us further away from God, exposes us to greater harm, and leaves us defenseless against powers that be. What he next says in verses 6 and 7 carries such force, we should never forget it: “For hardship does not spring form the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” What have we done to deserve this? Nothing! We are born into a world of heinous cruelty and sin, caught in the crossfire of disobedient thugs and their displeased Maker. It’s no fairer for us to endure the violence and agony of others’ arrogance than it was for Job. But, sadly, the poison existed before we came to be and rather than drown in its cesspool, we must do our all to pull ourselves out of it, trusting God’s mercy for us even when we can’t feel or understand Him.
Don’t Tell Me That!
Eliphaz continues: “But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Several times in my own life, when my situation and my faith seemed to hit an all-time low for no discernible reason, well-meaning friends have dropped the “Eliphaz bomb” on me, too. “Just believe. You’ll be amazed how works things out.” I usually nodded along to avoid hearing more of the same to convince me. But inside my head, I howled, “Don’t tell me that! I can’t grasp why God’s letting me suffer. He’s not answering my questions. And you’re telling me ‘Wait and see. He’s a miracle worker?’ Take that somewhere else.” After I settled down, however, and recognized God was my only source of true help, I learned they were right. In several instances, it took years for the miracle He promised to reach fruition. But He never failed to keep His promise.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” we’re asked in Romans 8.31. Eliphaz expands on this, saying, “He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.” (Job 5.12-13) While we’re racked with anxiety that God’s oblivious to our situation, it’s most often the case He’s dealing with the sources of our turmoil—bringing our enemies to their knees—while we wait on Him. His first order of business is protecting us from future harm; once that’s done, our healing will last. David, perhaps the Bible’s greatest example of living on a rollercoaster of extraordinary highs and devastating drops, writes, “The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” (Psalm 27.1, 3)
As hard as it is to accept, ours is not to know why we suffer. Hardship happens. Instead of blaming God or mistaking His timing as indifference, we’re wise to trust His Word. While we think He’s ignoring us, He’s actually protecting us. The day will come when cruel words, actions, and circumstances that torment us for so long will end. We’ll find we’re protected from tongue-lashings, unshaken by encroaching destruction, and laughing at disaster. “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees,” we read in Psalm 119.71. A life without hardship is a life without learning. Losing what we have for a season—possibly forever—is far better than having lived without experiencing God’s protection, healing, and deliverance.
Job's friends counsel him with the right words for the wrong reasons.
(Tomorrow: Following Peace)