Summary: How do we treat those who are suffering? This sermon is trying to answer that question from the life and experience of Job.
Love does no harm
The three thematics that run through Job
1) Retributional Theology
2) Suffering is Divine Chastening – Job, God is going to teach you something important through this
3) Suffering is only temporary – Job you have lost perspective – in the end – everything will be ok.
A. Suffering is Divine Retribution: “Job, you must have done something wrong…”
4:7-8: you reap what you sow
“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….”
8:3-4: your children sinned
“Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children sinned against him, he delivered them into the power of their transgression.”
11:2-12: you may think you are righteous, but God’s judgements are above ours
“…Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”
22:5-11: you are obviously a great sinner!
“Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges from your family for no reason, and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink, and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The powerful possess the land, and the favoured live in it.
You have sent widows away empty-handed, and the arms of the orphans you have crushed.
Therefore snares are around you, and sudden terror overwhelms you….” (cf. 31:16-23)
B. Suffering is Divine Chastening: “Job, God is going to teach you something important from this…”
5:17-18: discipline is painful, but ultimately beneficial
“How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal.”
C. Suffering is Only Temporary: “Job, you’ve lost perspective—in the end, everything’s going to be all right…”
8:8-10: Tradition offers the long view; in our short experience, we lose perspective.
“For inquire now of bygone generations, and consider what their ancestors have found;
for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow.
Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding?”
8:11-19: “Tough times never last, but tough people do!”
The text here is extremely difficult, but there is general agreement that Bildad offers a parable about plants that shows how ephemeral the wicked are; in some readings, this type of the wicked is followed by another of the righteous. Here are two recent translations reflecting the two different understandings, followed by an eloquent paraphrase from older scholarship taking the latter, “two plant” view:
“[Bildad] contrasts the life-history of two plants: One, a swamp rush, grows luxuriant in the mire and pools by the riverside; but with the advance of the season the water dries up and this erstwhile flourishing plant fails and ‘first of all verdure it withers’ (8:12). But, on the other hand, the desert herb grows in blighting heat and aridity, and still worse is a prey to camels’ teeth. It is eaten away so completely that not a trace is apparent. Yet from its root it grows again and from the ground it sprouts afresh (v.19). The first, he tells us, is the type of the wicked; the second, of the righteous. And disaster has overtaken both alike. The difference is in the sequel.” [W.A. Irwin, “An Examination of the Progress of Thought in the Dialogues of Job,” Journal of Religion 13 (1933): 152-3]
8:20-22: For the righteous, suffering is only temporary; “time heals all things.”
“See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy.
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.”
5:2: “Don’t envy the prosperity of the wicked—it’s short-lived.”
“Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple.”
What did God think?
7 And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. 8 Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”
What did Job think?
Job speaks of his friends in Job 6:14-17, 21
14“One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you have accused me without the slightest fear of the Almighty. 15 My brother, you have proved as unreliable as a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring 16 when it is swollen with ice and melting snow. 17 But when the hot weather arrives, the water disappears. The brook vanishes in the heat.