Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Misapplication of truth misrepresents God and misjudges other people

Job is a book that has no known date. Job was most likely alive around the time of Abraham, however we are not sure when the book was actually written. The book of Job is some 42 chapters long and it tells a vivid story. Interestingly, the book is classified not as a narrative but rather as a book of poetry, and indeed this designation is proper. One commentary on the book aptly states- “The contents of the book, together with its artistic and elegant style, place it among the literary masterpieces of all time”.

Of all the lessons to be learned from Job, perhaps what strikes me most is what Job's "friend" Eliphaz says to him and what it displays-

Misapplication of truth misrepresents God and misjudges other people.

I think Eliphaz misapplies truth about God which serves to misrpresent God to other people and ultimately prompts him to misjudge Job and his situation. Consider a few passages from Job and test my theory-

Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.

The book starts off very explicitly stating that Job’s character was above reproach. Obviously, being a son of Adam like us all he was a sinner. However, his account with God and Man was clean. He was a morally upright person. The text tells us he had a large family and many, many possessions. He was blessed in every way by God. Look with me now at what develops in verses 6-12:

Job 1:6-12 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.7 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?10 “Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.11 “But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Essentially, the Devil was having a debate of sorts with God. The Devil was basically saying that people only followed God because He did good things for them. The Devil was accusing God of bribing people for their affection. God responds to Satan by saying Job is an example of one who is faithful regardless of his physical circumstances. The Devil scoffs at this notion. God, interestingly, grants Satan access to Job, but all the while remains in control by forbidding Satan to harm Job’s body. So Satan goes out to disprove the faith of Job and so to disprove God Himself. In the last part of Chapter 1 Satan causes things to happen that kill all of Job’s children except his wife. Calamity upon calamity occur to Job’s children and extended family. The nightmare of every mom and dad happens to Job- inside of one day he loses all his children. Yes Job had much in the way of material blessings, but no more costly investment existed than the investment of years in the lives of his children, yet all perished before Job’s eyes! Utterly unfathomable to me. The chapter closes with Job in total despair. Still though, notice what is said about Job:

Job 1:22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.

Satan, surely frustrated, returns to God and asks for permission to attack Job’s health. He may have been tough when others around him were attacked physically and died, but he won’t be so faithful and true when his own body is ravaged by disease. So God grants Satan this request, but does not allow Satan to take Job’s life. Satan strikes Job immediately with a painful, debilitating plague. Job laments and deplores the day he was born, but never curses God even when his wife tells him he should do so and die! So there is Job, ravaged with painful boils, the kind of elevated sours that look like huge pimples. They look like tumors popping out all over his body. They itch and ooze. Seriously nasty. They disfigure his face and are sore all over- even on the bottom of his feet the text states. There is Job, picking up pieces of broken pottery to scratch his torturous itching, boil-filled skin. Unable to stand on his own infected feet nor able to lay comfortably on an infected backside and legs, Job reels in agony wishing he would never have been born, but never cursing God. Look at his reaction to his wife when she tells him to curse God and die in verse 10 of chapter 2:

Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”

In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job was a wealthy, influential man. He was no doubt known throughout the ancient land. Word of his demise traveled fast. Imagine, in our day, if Bill Gates suddenly lost his company to bankruptcy. Imagine if his family was killed in some tragic plane crash. Imagine then, that he was struck down with Cancer or some other painful, agonizing illness. The world would certainly take notice and wonder. Eventually the word of Job’s collapse traveled to friends of his who lived far off. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were three of his friends who got word of Job’s misfortune. Perhaps they were old college buddies, maybe old business partners, the text doesn’t explain the origin of their friendship. All we know is that these friends did care enough to travel and see their hurting friend Job. It is most likely true that these friends were genuine in their desire to help their suffering friend. They probably all meant well. There is no indication that any of these men have anything but care and respect for Job. What is interesting about the speeches these three friends give Job is how they overestimate their grasp of truth as they preach to Job about his sins. Yes, the book of Job is certainly about faithfulness in suffering. But a valuable secondary lesson is learned through the three friends and their misapplication of truth. From their comments to Job, we can see how the book of Job subtlely reveals the arrogance of pontificating about what we think is true about God. Don’t get me wrong, there are clear truths about God that we should be diligent to affirm and uphold. What is happening in Job, however, concerns three people who think they know why God does what he does and then tries to judge another person in light of that belief. The lesson we learn from Job's friends is this:

Misapplication of truth misrepresents God and misjudges other people.
Misapplication => Misrepresenting God => Misjudging people

Here are Job’s three friends. They have come to Job in order to help him out of his mess or to help him understand why he is in the predicament he is in. As Job sits or lies there in a heap, each of the three friends give a speech of sorts explaining to Job what has gone wrong. Consider just one of those speeches-

Job 4:1-2 Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:2 “If one attempts a word with you, will you become weary? But who can withhold himself from speaking?

Eliphaz starts by saying- I know you are hurting and suffering. Words probably won’t help, they might make you more weary. But I can’t stand watching this anymore. I must tell you what I think the problem is:

3 Surely you have instructed many, And you have strengthened weak hands.4 Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, And you have strengthened the feeble knees;5 But now it comes upon you, and you are weary; It touches you, and you are troubled.6 Is not your reverence your confidence? And the integrity of your ways your hope?7 “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off?

Here Eliphaz reveals what he believes about God. He reveals what he thinks is true and begins to apply it to Job. He states, “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off?”. In this statement we can gather the whole of his message to Job. He is saying, “Job, there must be some sin in your life that has caused the hand of God to come down upon you.” In so many words, Eliphaz states that God does not allow calamity into the lives of those who live uprightly. For Eliphaz, if you are living righteously, you will be blessed. Hardship only comes when you are not living right, so Job must have sinned. He goes on-

8 Even as I have seen, Those who plow iniquity And sow trouble reap the same.9 By the blast of God they perish, And by the breath of His anger they are consumed.

Eliphaz says that life is as simple as this- what you reap you sow. You mess up, you will die. I am sure some would agree with Eliphaz...he is right on according to biblical theology. The New Testament states clearly in 1 and 2 Corinthians, and the book of Galatians- “what a man sows, he will also reap”. Of course sowing and reaping is true. When we are entangled in sin, we are in fact sowing bad seeds that will come back to choke us. Suffering and hardship are the natural results of sin. Here's what I think Eliphaz, and many others, miss- The principle behind sowing and reaping is not that God stands waiting to zap anyone who sins, but rather that sin yields natural consequences. He fundamentally characterizes God as some kind of cosmic killjoy standing by with a huge lightning bolt in heaven ready to throw it at us as soon as we sin. Eliphaz latches on to a partial truth and applies it fully to Job without considering a very important distinction between punishment and discipline.

I think Scripture is clear, God does not ever punish his children. Let me say it again, if you are a Child of God going through a trial or suffering greatly, it is not a punishment you are receiving from God. We are all guilty of misunderstanding here. How many of us have committed some sin or some series of sin and when something bad happens to us we feel like God must be getting us back. Well he is not. He is not getting you back for your sin because Christ took that sin we committed and put it on Himself and God poured out his punitive wrath once and for all on His own Son. Punishment for the sin of believers was delivered upon Christ. God never punishes his Children. On the other hand, God does discipline His children. Why does he discipline? I don’t know. Sometimes things are going great in our spiritual lives and our walk with the Lord and the Lord allows hardship and trial into our lives to make us stronger. To build us and teach us further. Other times we are sinning and God acts to get our attention. In most cases only the person undergoing the trial and God know which of these are true. In most cases its probably a mixture of both. Eliphaz erred greatly by taking what he thought was a truth and ramming it down poor old Job’s throat. You will notice that Eliphaz says a lot of right things about God, look with me in Chapter 5, starting at verse 10-
Job 5:10-17 He gives rain on the earth, And sends waters on the fields.11 He sets on high those who are lowly, And those who mourn are lifted to safety.12 He frustrates the devices of the crafty, So that their hands cannot carry out their plans.13 He catches the wise in their own craftiness, And the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.14 They meet with darkness in the daytime, And grope at noontime as in the night.15 But He saves the needy from the sword, From the mouth of the mighty, And from their hand.16 So the poor have hope, And injustice shuts her mouth.17 “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.

Do you see where Eliphaz is amiss? He gets most of the truth right. The problem is that he extrapolates from his very elementary grasp of the truth to judge his friend Job. As he is waxing poetically, he applies what he believes to be the truth, he does so in such a way that Job is driven deeper in to despair. Yes, there are definite errors in his theology, but there are also many truths Eliphaz touches on. The problem is Job doesn’t really need a spurious theological commentary right now. He needs the loving comfort of a friend. Instead he receives a lesson in systematic theology. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians echo from the future-

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

You can say all the right things in all the wrong ways and in doing so obscure the message in such a way that brings others down instead of up. Eliphaz thinks he knows the truth, but he doesn’t. And the truth he does have a handle on he delivers in an unloving way.

Misapplication of truth misrepresents God and misjudges other people.


Qayaq said...

I have a lot of Baptist friends who think that anything bad that happens to them is punishment from God.

My life has taught me that God allows things to happen to us, (which may come as a result of how we were raised, or in the form of the bad choices we have made), and causes us to work through them and in this process we grow in character and we grow closer to God. In essence, hard times are a way of sanctifying His people. People who have never had anything bad happen to them are usually immature and lack strong character.
If someone is gay, lets say, (however he got that way), if he becomes a Christian he is still responsible to overcome that lifestyle no matter how hard it may be. God allowed the natural course of life to occur in this persons life which has lead to them being gay, but just because God allowed it does not make that an excuse to do nothing about it. God has decided to work something very special in this persons life by sanctifying that person, and thorugh this very long, hard road make that person more Christ like. These purposes are God's. We may not be able to understand the why, but we derive a good deal of benefit from the process of change.
At the end of Job we notice that when Job asks why he gets the same response that Paul gives when people asked him why God does what He does. Who are you to question Me in what I am doing. God then asks Job if he can tell him how He made the universe and upholds it with His mighty hand then He will answer Job. He is in essence saying, that His ways are above our ways, He does have a purpose for everything He does, but does not have to fill us in on it.

Frontier Forest said...

The perplexing message that escapes from this Book has always puzzled me. Because of all the many interpretive challenges, the answer I seem to find peace with is really pretty simple. God wants those whom HE has chosen to understand and realize the difference between God’s infinite and sovereign nature and man’s finite and flawed wisdom. Without questioning, I know God is in total control! With His faith purpose in mine, comes our realization that when we are at the end of our ropes…. Only then do we give Him the freedom to do His best work, in us, through us and for us.