Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 4: Thursday
In today’s Bible reading of Job 7–8, Job finishes his rejoinder to Eliphaz in chapter 7, and Bildad lectures Job in chapter 8.
Chapter 7 opens with Job’s reflecting on the emptiness of life as he speaks of his grinding miseries. He recounts his nights of trouble without sleep, his loathsome, agonizing disease and views his life without hope. Verse 11, marks a turning point. In chapter 3, Job’s words of anguish burst forth to his friends, but now Job will directly address God:
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
In the verses that follow, Job views God’s sovereignty over his life as a relentless examination. As I read his words I thought of David; Psalm 39 contains his similar complaint. Both see their adversity resulting from God bearing down on them.
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You,
O watcher of men?
Why have You set me as Your target,
So that I am a burden to myself?
Why then do You not pardon my transgression
And take away my iniquity?
For now I will lie down in the dust;
And You will seek me, but I will not be.”
“Remove Your plague from me;
Because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing.
With reproofs You chasten a man for iniquity;
You consume as a moth what is precious to him;
Surely every man is a mere breath. Selah.”
Job’s plaintive cry implies he knows of no specific sin; if there is one, he wants to know why God doesn’t pardon him. Because of Job 1–2, we know Job’s adversity is not a consequence of his sin; however, we do not know what preceded David’s complaint. Both are feeling the smallness and futility of their lives as they both acknowledge God’s sovereignty over their circumstances. Both entreat God to leave them alone.
“Will You never turn Your gaze away from me,
Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle?”
“Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again
Before I depart and am no more.”
E. S. P. Heavenor writes that Job’s phrase about spittle means, ‘for a single moment,’ and is still in use.1 Job expresses no hope, but David does say:
“And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in You.”
I think I’ve come to understand why Job and the Psalms were written in poetic form. The concise form and precise use of words in poetry gives expression to intense emotions in the same way a narrow channel intensifies the flow of water—I don’t think prose could have conveyed the intensity of emotions experienced.
“If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate.”
“We find two grave deficiencies in Bildad which make his words worse than useless from Job’s standpoint. First, he was tragically lacking in the sympathy for which Job craved. His assumption that the sudden death of Job’s family was the divine punishment for their sinfulness was a sword thrust into an agonized heart. Job knew that it was untrue. In the second place, he was totally hidebound by tradition. He was so busily engaged in looking into the past that he quite failed to realize that Job was feeling out for a richer and more intelligent experience of God than anything he himself had known.”2
Have you ever been on the receiving end of lectures in the midst of suffering? I have. I did not hear accusations of sin, but Christian Living 101 on handling adversity. They were given by people who had not entered my valley to get to know me or what I thought or felt, but stood on the edge and tossed words down to me when I needed their presence next to me.
Have you ever lectured someone who was in the midst of suffering? Examine your own heart and motivation. You may have been clumsy and trying to help or there may have been pride mixed with your presumption or fear. Only God knows. Repent and work to restore the relationship and do not add to the burden of a sufferer who may be struggling with forgiving you despite added pain and anger.
Job’s need was to believe in God’s goodness, benevolence and personal care for him in the face of God’s inscrutable sovereignty in allowing his suffering. Assuring someone that God is sovereign is not necessarily a comforting thing. The person may already believe and know that—the spiritual battle may be believing in God’s love at a time of intensely feeling abandoned. This feeling can even be heightened if the person has had previous continuous fellowship with God and worshiped Him as Job and David did, only to feel blow after blow. In Job 6:14, Job said:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
When circumstances overwhelm you and Satan whispers in your ear that you are abandoned by God, the goodness and kindness of friends who are with you in your valley give the lie to Satan’s words. Otherwise, you struggle alone to believe and trust God. Fellow believers are God’s tangible reminder that He loves you and He cares for you as a person and for the agony you feel. Trust me, I know.
I have suffered with friends and suffered alone. It was far easier for me to trust God and find joy in Him when friends stood with me. The spiritual agony of feeling alone is excruciating. Our Lord knew abandonment by God when He suffered for our sins on the cross for He bore the full wrath of God for our sins. Those who are God’s children are not abandoned by God nor will they be; however, we need to love those who suffer and to provide comfort and consolation.
My husband showed me a Wall Street Journal article this week on expressing sympathy to a person who is grieving. The author, Elizabeth Bernstein, quoted someone who stated, “…we often avoid people who are vulnerable or in need because we feel uncomfortable with their emotions.”3 For Christians, love should drive us on to face our discomfort and have the courage to withstand the storm of feelings of those in need. It’s only by entering their valley and getting to know them that you will actually be able to know what someone needs: a cup of coffee, a movie, a time of tears even mingled with laughter, comfort, exhortation.
Telling people you are praying for them is helpful, but it can quickly become remote and impersonal if that’s all you ever do for them. It underscores the feeling that God has become remote and impersonal; doubt creeps in as you begin to believe that while God has forgiven your sins, He has no benevolent eye on your current pain. Now I realize that’s not true, and the Bible affirms God is always with us and cares for us, but I’m talking about the fight and struggle to keep feelings in check and believe God. The discipline called for is immense—I’m not talking about some type of mystic spiritual discipline, either. I’m talking about the discipline of the soldier who has trained hard and fought battles who still endures and perseveres by putting one more foot in front of another and doing the next task. That’s certainly easier for some of us than it is for others. In Psalm 27, David was serious when he wrote,
“I would have despaired unless I had believed
that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.”
There are times when no person is there—but you will always have God and His Word. Then you must cling to His promises that He will not leave you or forsake you. You must dig deep into His Word and know Him. In my post, Blessings, I quoted Os Guinness:
“At root there are only two basic questions for faith—Is God there? And is God good?
“…Face to face with mystery, and especially the mystery of evil, the faith that understands why it has come to trust must trust where it has not come to understand….
“Can faith bear the pain and trust God, suspending judgement and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgements must be made?…To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is different again.”
My friend, Lisa, endured alone for numerous months as God ministered to her through memorization of the Psalms. God did not leave her—He used His Word to strengthen and sustain her. She, in turn, is one of the most comforting and compassionate persons I have ever met.
God is sovereign, and God is good. God is there and God loves you. There may be times we may not understand His dealings, and we need each other to affirm who He is when doubt enters. Love one another. The world becomes increasingly impersonal: become a part of someone’s life and invite that person to become a part of your life. Do not stand above and throw words into someone’s valley; we are all at level ground, and we all need each other.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
Job and his friends, Ilya Yefimovich Repin: Public Domain.
1, 2E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 427.
3Elizabeth Bernstein, “When a Friend Grieves, How to Get Sympathy Right,” The Wall Street
Journal, January 25, 2011.
Os Guinness, Doubt, Lion Publishing plc, England, 1976, Third Edition,1987, pp. 201, 202, 206.
Doubt was revised and republished twenty years later as God in the Dark. I own both books. I haven’t yet read the second, and I don’t know if all the original ideas were incorporated into it, but the first book is longer and six chapters have been omitted in the later publication, including four under the section titled, Resolving Doubt. I once found a stack of Doubt in a bookstore for about 5o¢ each. I bought at least a half-dozen, gave some away and kept two. One I loan out, and one I keep! I did this because I think I am now using my third copy of Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality! Some books you want to loan, but you never want to lose!
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter