In our passage today, Job let’s his friends have it. He begins with a little sarcasm, “Only their opinions matter, and all wisdom will die with them.” While sarcasm doesn’t usually bring about righteousness in conflict, it does feel good, which is why we do it.
The sum total of Job’s friend’s advice is to repent. This is based entirely on a theology of suffering as a result of sin. Job has repeatedly claimed innocence. His appeals have been rebuffed to the degree that he feels like a punchline to a joke. His friends have determined him guilty, and have attempted to shame him into confession.
Job refers to his friends as “men of ease,” and that they “hold calamity in contempt.” From their life of ease, they look down on those who suffer. They fail to acknowledge the “prosperity” of the wicked. Job punches a hole in the suffering-because-of-sin theology, because everyone can acknowledge that there are bad people in the world who have it all. They seem blessed. From an earthly perspective, “those who provoke God are secure.”
Job responds to Zophar’s comment about the son of a donkey (11:12) telling him to learn from the animals who are smarter than Zophar. All the animals and fish know that calamities come from the hand of God and not necessarily from sin (2:10). Likewise, if Bildad’s assertion is true, that wisdom comes from age (8:8–10), Job asks these old fogeys why they aren’t displaying it (12:12).
Job’s theology isn’t perfect, but he understands one crucial thing. God is in control. Although it seems like Job challenges the character of God, like saying that those who provoke God are secure, Job knows God is the boss. Job essentially says, if God is in charge, I cannot change what he sets out to do. It doesn’t really acknowledge God’s goodness, but it clearly illustrates God’s power.
Thankfully, God is not only powerful, He is good. The suffering we deserve because of sin is far worse than even Job experienced. It was the suffering that Christ bore on the cross and it goes beyond imagination. It’s only by God’s grace that the consequences of sin are withheld during our lifetime that we might repent and believe—that Christ’s substitutionary atonement might become effective for us individually. The suffering we experience in this life is only a taste of the excruciating punishment that those outside of a relationship with Christ will bear for eternity. In God’s goodness, in His grace and mercy, He gave His Son that the suffering believer’s experience in this life is as close to Hell as we’ll ever come. Unfortunately, though, the opposite is true. The joy that a non-believer experiences in this life is as close to Heaven as they’ll ever come.
The challenge with suffering is that it usually makes a person look inward. When we suffer, we focus on our own circumstances and fail to consider the circumstances of others. In Christ, that should not be the case. Yes, suffering hurts and as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to mourn. However, our suffering should increase our burden for the Gospel. Resist the urge to let suffering cause you to turn inward. If we must suffer, let us use our suffering to magnify the name of the Lord. Let the lessons we learn through suffering become a ministry.
Question for reflection: What is a difficult circumstance or suffering you experienced that the Lord used to grow you or teach you about Himself? How have you used that lesson for ministry?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate