JOB THE RIGHTEOUS SUFFERER Based on Job 1:1
By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the first impressions I gained at the Baptist General Conference anuual meeting in Green Bay was that Christians are perpetually suffering. Every day we were reminded of leaders in our conference who are battleing with cancer. Just in our small demonination of 130,000 people there are hundreds who have cancer, and hundreds more who suffer from other diseases. On top of this, accidents are taking life, or leaving people injured and mained everyday. If this be the case in just one arm of the body of Christ, how great must be the suffering of the whole body?
A Russian pastor just recently released form prison for exchange for some Russian spies spoke to the conference twice. He told of his great sorrow because of fellow pastors and lay-believers who still languish in Russian prisons, not for being criminals, but for being Christians. (This was 1979). There is no doubt about it, its a great day to be alive, but the facts are that Christians are suffering persecution and martyrdom all over the world. In our part of the world where we have peace we suffer from disease and accidents. In conflict torn countries Chrisitans face all of this plus the sufferings inflicted by man.
It is no wonder that Paul prayed that Christians might be strengthened in the inner man. Christians need internal shock absorbers to keep on going in spite of the blows dealt by life. The best shock absorbers are right thoughts about suffering. Wrong ideas and theories to explain it only adds to the burden. Helmut Thielicke, the great German preacher and scholar, who has traveled across America many times was asked, "What is the greatest weakness of American Christians?" He responded, "Their views of suffering." American Christians suffer one by one and have not gone through the holocost of war with its cities bombed and thousands dying all around them. The result is, most of the deepest thinking on suffering comes from Christians in England and Europe where they have been through it.
They will not be comforted when you squeeze rose-water on their cancer. The facts of life have forced them to rethink the popular simple views that Christians hold in sunny times. Fortunately for us God has given us another way to think deeply about the mysteries of suffering. We do not have to go through the fire to see the light. The book of Job reveals the debate on suffering as no other piece of literature on earth. Just as Jesus suffered for us that we need not experience hell, so Job suffered that we need not go through hell on earth to come to right ideas about suffering. Thank God we do not all have to learn by experience. It is possible to learn much from the experience of others. All of us will experience suffering, but few if any will have to go the route of Job. His severe experience can help all of us make our less severe journey smoother by giving to us the shock absorbers of right ideas.
In the book of Job we learn from the mistakes of others. This is the path of wisdom, for we cannot live long enough to make them all ourselves. We can make plenty of them, however, and the fact is, many go on making the same mistakes made by the friends of Job. They were good and godly men, but are the great examples of how wrong good and godly men can be when it comes to suffering. Their mistake was the common mistake still being made by Christians. They tried to impose their simple explanation on all of reality. They followed the path of all who are dogmatic. In order to get all of the evidence to support their theory, they just ignored the facts that didn't fit. They hated complexity. They demanded that Job conform to their nice neat simple formula for explaining his, and all suffering.
Their simple formula was that all suffering was a sign of divine displeasure. When men are good and godly they do not suffer, for God blesses them. When they do suffer they have ceased to be good and godly. They have sinned, and all suffering is punishment for sin. The beauty of this formula is that anyone can grasp it. It solves the mystery of suffering and explains everything. If you suffer it is just a reaping of what you have sown. There is really no mystery to solve. It has only one major defect-it is not true. This is what Job keeps saying over and over in his defense.
Many Christians, however never read the book of Job, or do not understand it if they do. The result is that many Christians suffer great mental agony because they try to explain everything by this simple but false formula. They cry out in afliction saying, what have I done to deserve this? This implies that all suffering is deserved and is punishment for bad behavior. They may be conscious of some sin in their life, but there is no way that their sin can be so great as to deserve such severe punishment. So they get angry at God and accuse Him of cruelty and injustice. They know people much worse than themselves who do not suffer at all. Their faith is often damaged, and they suffer mental and spiritual torment all because they start with bad theology and a wrong view of suffering.
If we learn nothing else from our study of Job, let's learn the folly of trying to force all of the facts into a simple formula. There is a fascinating Greek legend about a robber named Procrustes. He had a very unusual way of treating guests who came to his home. He had only one bed for guests, and so everyone had to sleep in it. Since he wanted each guest to fit the bed just right, he would stretch short guests on a stretcher so they were the right length, and, of course, if they were too long, he cut them off so as to fit. Needless to say he was not a popular host. His perverted practice has led to the word procrustean. It describes the friends of Job perfectly. It is a word that refers to people who will cut off facts, or stretch the truth, or anything else that is necessary to squeeze all of reality into the bed of their iron-clad formula.
The book of Job is anti-procrustean, and it demands that we stretch our minds rather than the truth. It forces us to see life from a larger perspective, and to expand our theology to cover a greater diversity of facts. The book of Job forbids us from getting ahold of a piece of the puzzle and calling that the picture.
Let's look at some of the procrustean beds which men have tried to force all of the facts of life to fit into, but which the book of Job rejects as inadequate formulas to explain suffering. You may not like this study anymore than Job's friends did, for maybe you will find your pet theory among them. Don't feel too bad, however, for if there were not a lot of false ideas about suffering, God would not have devoted so much of His Word to the purpose of fighting them. All of us will be forced by this book to reexamine how we think about suffering.
The first false view of suffering is:
Suffering is the result of the sin of the sufferer. It is agreed by numerous commentators that the main purpose of the book of Job is to destroy this popular and almost universal view of suffering. Most religions of the world follow this formula. The whole doctrine of reincarnation is built around this theory. If babies suffer and die they must have sinned in a previous existence. If good and rightous people have terrible diseases, it can only be explained by the sins they committed in a former life. The main purpose of the doctrine of reincarnation is to force all of reality to fit this formula. Those who really believe this formula have solved the problem of suffering by denying that there is a problem. If masses of boat people are drowning, and thousands of children are dying, and disease is turning people into zombies of affliction, there is nothing to get upset about, for they all deserve what they are suffering. All suffering is punishment for sin, and so all is fair and God is just. This theory enables those who hold it to watch people die like flies without compassion, for they see no evil in suffering. It is all good because it is just punishment for sin.
Believe it or not, this is the theory of suffering held by Job's friends. No wonder those who add to life's misery by this cruel counsel are called "Job's friends." They did not believe in reincarnation, but they did believe that all Job was suffering was justified, and that it was God's way of punishing him, and trying to get him to repent. They each take turns at trying to break Job down so he will confess his secret sin. The best arguments for their view of suffering that you will find anywhere are right here in the book of Job. As eloquent and forceful as they were, however, they never convinced Job that he was being punished for sin. They could throw at him Scripture verses by the dozen that say, whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. Job knew that was true of much suffering, but he refused to accept it as an explanation for all suffering, and especially his own. Why? Because it just did not fit the facts of life. You cannot just take a truth, even a Bibical truth, and impose it on all of life's experiences.
It is a Biblical truth that men reap what they sow. It is a Biblical truth that sin leads to suffering. It is Biblical truth that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. No one will deny that these are sound Biblical truths. Nevertheless, if they do not fit the facts of a specific case, they are not true of that case. The best of medicine is of no value for a sickness it cannot cure. Suffering can be educational, but this truth is of no value to the man who is killed, or left in a coma, by an accident. What the facts clearly reveal about Job is:
No. 1. Verse 1 tells us he was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and turned away from evil.
No. 2. In verse 8 God confirms this description and adds, "There is none like him on earth."
It is established from the start that the man we are dealing with is in the center of God's will. He is as near perfect as any man named anywhere in the Bible. This means that any theory of suffering that does not take into account that even the most righteous can suffer terribly is false. Job was not being chastened by the Lord, for the Lord loved him and held him up as the best example of godliness. His suffering had nothing to do with his sin, and, therefore, all of the arguments of Job's friends which try to convince him he has angered God are themselves what made God angry. At the end of the book they are only spared from God's wrath by Job's prayer and sacrifice on their behalf. Their theory which was so false in relation to Job was almost true for themselves in that they came close to great suffering for their sin of teaching that all suffering is due to sin. This is a serious sin, for God has gone to great lengthss to make it clear that it is a false view of suffering, and to be ignorant where knowledge is available is sinful.
Does this mean the righteous do not suffer because of sin? No, it does not mean that at all. The Bible is full of examples of saints who suffer due to their sin. Poor Peter weeping because of his cowardly denial of his Lord is a prime example. It is not that there is not truth to the formula that suffering is due to sin. It is just that it becomes a false view of suffering when you try to impose it on all experiences of suffering. A partial truth made into a whole truth becomes a lie. When you take something relative and make it absolute you are guilty of idolatry and sin against God. That is what the friends of Job did, and the book of Job exists to help us avoid their mistake.
If you think all suffering is punishment for sin, you will be forced to pervert the image of God into a cruel creator rather than the merciful creator that He is. Imagine how cruel it would be to imply that all who have cancer or some other fatal disease are suffering because they deserve it. Such cruelty is a sin that God forbids by this book. The parents of a girl born with a crippled foot were asked why they did not have the child's foot straightened by surgery. They replied, "If we had the foot straightened He'd find some other way of punishing us." They looked upon their suffering as God's punishment, and the result was they had a perverted and pagan view of God. Had they understood the book of Job, and that tragic things can happen even to the innocent, they would have been motivated to turn to God in faith rather than from Him in fear.
We don't have time to look at other false views of suffering. The main truths to grasp is that the righteous can and do suffer, and wicked sometimes do not. These are the facts of life. The question of course is why? Why isn't it true that only the wicked suffer, and that only the righteous prosper? It seems like the friends of Job ought to be right. Why are they so wrong? They were wrong because of the cross. The cross was in God's heart and mind long before Jesus came. The teaching of Job was essential to prepare the way for the Messiah. No one could ever believe in a Messiah who was a man of sorrows, and who would suffer crucifixion between two thieves if they were convinced that only the wicked suffer and the righteous escape it.
Those Jews who never learned the message of Job missed God's greatest gift, for they rejected Jesus because, like Job's friends, they said he must be a sinner, for he suffers. The unknown poet said of Jesus:
The best of men
That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer;
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit,
The first true gentleman that ever breathed.
We can look at the cross and praise God for our suffering Lord, and what He purchased for us by His suffering. Those who believed, and yet believe, that the righteous can never suffer, can never grasp the truth of the cross and the fact that God Himself suffers-the only absolute RIGHTEOUS SUFFERER.
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