D. A. Carson – Job: Mystery and Faith (5) Job’s Happy Ending

I am indebted to Adrian for pointing me to this treaty on Job. Any dedicated believer, who has suffered deeply, or has seen a loved one suffer is fascinated with the mechanics of Job’s dialogue with God in the midst of his own deep suffering and the wisdom, peace, and understanding that can be derived from it. You can read this article in it’s entirety, in pdf form here (18 pages) –

http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_Job_mystery_and_faith.pdf

d a carsonD. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of numerous commentar- ies and monographs, and is one of this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. Among his books are Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (John Knox Press, 1981; reprint, Baker, 1994) and How Long, O Lord?: Per- spectives on Suffering and Evil (Baker, 1990).

The topic is divided into
  1. READ Job chapters 1 – 3 Job’s Sufferings and Initial Reaction here
  2. READ Job chapters 4 – 31  Job’s Plaintive Outrage and His Miserable Comforters 
  3. READ Job chapter 32 – 37 Job and Elihu
  4. READ Job chapter 38 – 42:6 Job and God 
  5. READ Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending (article below)

Here are some excerpts from the last section:

photo www.bibleartists.wordpress.com Job’s Despair by Blake

Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending

These verses may be divided into two parts. The first, which we have already glanced at, reports God’s wrath with Eliphaz and his two friends for not speak- ing of God what was right, as Job did (42:7-8). They are required to offer sacrifice to God, and Job, whom they have despised and abused, must pray for them, for God will accept his prayers for them (and, by implication, not their own!).

In the second part (vv. 10-17), after Job prays for his friends, the Lord makes him prosperous again. His siblings and acquaintances gather around him and provide gifts, presumably to help him start up again. He sires another family, seven more sons and three more daughters, and gains herds twice the size of what he had before. No women were more beautiful than his daughters, and Job left them an inheritance along with their brothers—further evidence of Job’s com- passionate and enlightened treatment of those traditionally squeezed to the periph- ery of life (cf. chap. 31). He lived to a ripe old age, seeing his children and their chil- dren to the fourth generation. Eventually he died, “old and full of years”—an epi- taph reserved for the choicest or most favored of God’s servants (Abraham [Gen 25:8], Isaac [Gen 35:29], David [1 Chron 29:28], and Jehoiada the priest [2 Chron 24:15]).

If some critics are displeased with God’s answer to Job out of the storm, even more are incensed by this “happy ending.” The story, they argue should have ended with Job’s repentance. Whether he was restored is irrelevant; in any case it is untrue to the experience of many, who suffer at length without reprieve. To end the story this way makes the doctrine of retribution basically right after all. The conclusion is therefore anticlimactic at best, contradictory at worst.

This is, I think, a shallow reading of the text. Perhaps the following reflections will help unpack the purpose of this conclusion a little:

(1) We must beware of our own biases. One of the reasons why many people are dissatisfied with this ending is because in the contemporary literary world ambiguity in moral questions is universally revered, while moral certainty is almost as universally despised. The modern mood enjoys novels and plays where the rights and wrongs get confused, where every decision is a mixture of right and wrong, truth and error, where heroes and antiheroes reverse their roles.

Why this infatuation with ambiguity? It is regarded as more mature. Clear-cut answers are written off as immature. The pluralism of our age delights in moral ambiguity—but only as long as it costs nothing. Devotion to contemporary moral ambiguity is extraordinarily self-centered. It demands freedom from God so that it can do whatever it wants. But when the suffering starts the same self-centered focus on my world and my interests, rather ironically, wants God to provide answers of sparkling clarity.

(2) Throughout his excruciating suffering, Job has demonstrated that he serves the Lord out of a pure heart. True, he has said some stupid things and has been rebuked; but at no point does he simply curse God and turn his back on Him. Even his demand that God present himself before Job and give an answer is the cry of the believer seeking to find out what on earth God is doing. Even while sitting in the ashpit, Job trusts God enough to express extraordinary confidence in him, and for no ulterior motive.

In that sense, God has won his wager with the devil. Job may utter words that darken God’s counsel, but he does not lose his integrity or abandon his God. Is it there- fore surprising that there should be full rec- onciliation between God and Job? And if the wager has been won, is there any rea- son for Job’s afflictions to continue?

(3) No matter how happy the ending, nothing can remove the suffering itself. The losses Job faced would always be with him. A happy ending is better than a mis- erable one, but it does not transform the suffering he endured into something less than suffering. A survivor of the Holo- caust has not suffered less because he ultimately settles into a comfortable life in Los Angeles.

(4) The Book of Job has no interest in praising mystery without restraint. All biblical writers insist that to fear the Lord ultimately leads to abundant life. If this were not so, to fear the Lord would be stupid and masochistic. The book does not disown all forms of retribution; rather, it disowns simplistic, mathematically precise, and instant application of the doc- trine of retribution. It categorically rejects any formula that affirms that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always destroyed. There may be other reasons for suffering; rewards (of blessing or of destruction) may be long delayed; knowledge of God is its own reward.

Job still does not have all the answers; he still knows nothing about the wager between God and Satan. He must simply trust God that something far greater was at stake than his own personal happiness. But he has stopped hinting that God is unjust; he has come to know God better; and he enjoys the Lord’s favor in rich abundance once again.

photo wikipedia Job restored to prosperity by Laurent de La Hyre (1606–1656)

(5) The blessings that Job experiences at the end are not cast as rewards that he has earned by his faithfulness under suf- fering. The epilogue simply describes the blessings as the Lord’s free gift. The Lord is not nasty or capricious. He may for vari- ous reasons withdraw his favor, but his love endures forever.

In that sense, the epilogue is the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth. God is just, and will be seen to be just. This does not smuggle mathemati- cal retribution in through the back door. Rather, it is to return, in another form, to the conclusion of chapter 8 of this book.

(6) Although I have repeatedly spoken of God entering into a wager with Satan, or winning his wager with Satan, I have done so to try to capture the scene in the first chapter. But there is a danger in such language: it may sound as if God is capri- cious. He plays with the lives of his crea- tures so that he can win a bet.

Clearly that is not true. The challenge to Satan is not a game; nor is the outcome, in God’s mind, obscure. Nothing in the book tells us why God did this. The solemnity and majesty of God’s response to Job not only mask God’s purposes in mystery, but presuppose they are serious and deep, not flighty or frivolous.

Nevertheless, the wager with Satan is in certain ways congruent with other biblical themes. God’s concern for the salvation of men and women is part of a larger, cosmic struggle between God and Satan, in which the outcome is certain while the struggle is horrible. This is one way of placing the human dimensions of redemption and judgment in a much larger framework than what we usually perceive.

(7) We are perhaps better situated now to understand precisely why God says that his servant Job spoke of him “what was right,” while the three miserable com- forters did not. True, Job is rebuked for darkening the Lord’s counsel: he became guilty of an arrogance that dared to demand that God give an account of his actions. But Job has been genuinely grop- ing for the truth, and has not allowed glib answers to deter him. He denies neither God’s sovereignty nor (at least in most of his statements!) God’s justice. Above all, so far as the wager between God and Satan is concerned, Job passes with flying colors; he never turns his back on God.

Contrast the three friends. Although they are trying to defend God, their reductionistic theology ends up offering Job a temptation: to confess sins that weren’t there, in order to try to retrieve his prosperity. If Job had succumbed, it would have meant that Job cared more for prosperity than for his integrity or for the Lord himself; and the Lord would have lost his wager. Their counsel, if followed, would have actually led Job away from the Lord; Job would have been reduced to being yet one more person interested in seeking God for merely personal gain.

This is, at the end of the day, the ulti- mate test of our knowledge of God. Is it robust enough that, when faced with excruciating adversity, it may prompt us to lash out with hard questions, but will never permit us to turn away from God? But perhaps it is better to put the matter the other way round: the God who put Job through this wringer is also the God of whom it is said that, with respect to his own people, “he will not let [them] be tempted beyond what [they] can bear. But when [they] are tempted, he will also pro- vide a way out so that [they] can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13). God could not trust me with as much suffering as Job endured; I could not take it. But we must not think that there was any doubt in God’s mind as to whether he would win his wager with Satan over Job!

When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith? 

Loran Livingston – Why do righteous people experience illness and suffering? And what of –> word of faith?

Thanks to Cornel Ilioi who first noted Pastor Livinston’s sermons and thus recommended him to us. Loran Livingston is Pastor of Central Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina. Link to Loran Livingston podcast here.

Pastor Loran Livingstone, These are Sermon notes from the April 1,2012 Sunday morning message. You can view it here or listen to audio,  or you can click here if that page no longer displays this sermon.

Text: James 5:10-11

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

„The end intended by the Lord”. You see, in your life right now the Lord has an intended, planned end. As you read the Book of Job, you see that what God had in store for Job at the end was more than a man could express or comprehend. So, here we stand today, blessed by the reading of the oldest book in the Bible, Job and God decided with the very first book to deal with persecution, loss, sickness, discouragement. That’s the first thing God said to us, pen on paper in Scripture: That you will suffer, but, God has an intended end and that end is better than you can imagine.

I would imagine that if you have never read the entire Book of Job you have heard about it. You’ve heard about the patience of Job. You’ve heard about his losses. I guess what I cannot really grasp, this righteous man, and the Bible says he was. He’s even mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah with Noah and Daniel as 3 of God’s choices of righteous, obedient servants. So, here’s a righteous man; there’s none like him in the entire world, the Bible said, God even said that, who is losing everything he had. Amazingly, he survives- without a Bible, without spiritual friends to pray with, without a church to attend, without christian music playing in the background. He had nothing. But, the grace of God brought him through it.

The thoughtfulness, the mercy, the grace of God intended for a man to come out of an indescribable tragedy or series of tragedies with a thankful heart and a stronger faith. Now, of course you know how people are. These 3 companions of Job said, „Job, the bottom line is we think we understand God and we know that God doesn’t punish people for nothing. There must be some sin in your life.

May I say to you that if you ever go through something, there will be those who will say, „They’re getting payback because God is a just God.” You better hope that He is a long suffering and just God. „God would not afflict the sinless,” they said, because they had a limited understanding of God Himself. Now, one of the Scriptures that I use so often is this, „His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.” You cannot figure God out. I don’t care how much of the Word you have memorized, you cannot comprehend, nor will you ever be able to figure God’s ways. And so, it behooves all of us to be careful when we pass a judgement on somebody that is going through something, because our time is coming. Right?

Let me say that in a different way. We would do well to leave the reasons for one’s suffering up to God and not to think that because we are Scripture-holics that we can go to a certain category of suffering and say, „That’s why they’re going through this… payback has come!” Even Jesus said one day, Son of God… raised the dead… and this is what He said in John 5:30 „I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent Me„. He said, „As I hear, I judge”. Hear what? There is a voice from heaven. There’s God’s voice, the Father’s voice. He wasn’t saying, „As I hear people…give their opinion, I make a judgement”. No, no. This voice that He heard, came from above. And He said: When I listen to that voice, my judgement is righteous. You can’t just look at circumstances in a person’s life and conclude why things are happening. That is why we are taught to pray without ceasing and to seek the face of the Lord because the Holy Spirit speaks to us. I believe He impresses us with things.

If God’s people, instead of coming up to someone whose heart is broken, whose life is all to pieces and telling them, „Is there any sin in your life?….” Now, I have to be honest with you. That would truly aggravate me. And you can call it… well we gotta cover all the bases… Well, are you kidding me? „Well, is there any sin in your life?” „Of course there is, you … person!”  „No, no, no Pastor, I mean known sin”.  Well, how can you not know a sin? How can you be doing something that violates God and not know it? The Holy Spirit is the one that tells you what to do and what not to do. „Is there any sin in your life?” „Brother, you better be careful, you’re moving into some territory of authority that you are not capable of handling.” „Is there any sin? God does not judge people who are sinless.”

I have to be very honest with you. I have grown in the Lord over the years and I have changed some of the things that I used to thing were right. You know, we’re still very guilty in the church of not knowing how to handle somebody else’s problems, so we try to make it a spiritual thing and be done with it. Somebody says, „I went to the doctor today and I found out that I have a spot on my lung. Since we don’t know what to do with that, or what to say, we say, „Oh that’s the devil and I rebuke the…, just grab my hand and we go into a tirade and we rebuke the devil and cast him out. And he will not have authority in this situation and you will live and not die!”  And of course, that’s just a way of saying, „Ooh, I don’t know how to handle this, so I’ll throw it over in the spiritual camp and I will divest myself of any personal responsibility and just give it to Jesus”.

God’s sovereignty

And, a lot of times we speak against and tirade against something that God Himself has allowed. Ooh, now I know exactly where to go with this. You know, you need to be very careful (in) how you handle those kinds of things. Please remember, the devil can do nothing without God’s permission. „Well, the devil has attacked my family. You all pray that God will make him stop.” He (the devil) couldn’t have attacked your family if God had not given him permission to do so. Now, I didn’t expect to get a rousing response to all of that because we still want to live in that place of denial where God wouldn’t allow us to suffer. Suffering only comes from the enemy. Well, it doesn’t, ladies and gentlemen.

So all of these super spiritual faith-word, faith filled tirades against a circumstance in someone’s life do not serve for the better at all. What we should be saying is, „Let’s pray about this together. Let me hold you up in prayer. I don’t know the source of this. I  don’t know the end of this, neither do you. But, if we stay before God  and let God bring it to the intended end, you will see that the Lord is very gracious and  merciful in your life.  Instead of trying to erase pain and remove discomfort, we ought to be diving in the middle of it and saying: God is sovereign. God  is doing a work.  This is the work of the Lord. We will not speak against it . We will receive it by faith and we will do  what God has called us to do and that is- worship, praise and pray. I lift up holy hands to a God I cannot understand, but trust and I will say: You are Lord, You are God  and You are sovereign and I will serve You no matter what comes my way! „. Don’t make quick judgements about someone’s suffering, not even yours. 

I think that enough time has passed, that the Lord will allow me to deal with this again. Every time we have a problem come our way, we immediately think of what we did in the past and now it has come to bite us in our life. Every time discomfort or tragedy, or pain or bad reports come our way, our immediate action is to say, „I knew it. Here it comes. It was 39 years ago, but I knew that sooner or later I have to pay for it. And, the Bible teaches us, our Lord taught us: You can’t even judge your own condition or the problem you’re going through, you don’t even comprehend. This is the Lord’s work. So, not only are we warned not to judge why someone else is suffering, but we’re told not to judge our own suffering because God is in control of our lives.

If He’s in control of my life, it means that the point where He forgave me cleansed me. I am no longer held accountable for what I did, when the bloof of Jesus covered it and I was forgiven of it. I don’t care if you had 30 abortions, I don’t care if you killed a dozen people, I just don’t care. If the blood of Jesus has been applied to your life, if you’ve asked for forgiveness, if by faith you’ve received Him, it’s all erased. It’s all forgotten. It’s all thrown into the sea of God’s forgetfulness and don’t let the devil… much more than that, don’t let yourself always be dredging up what God forgave and trying to figure out why you’re suffering now.

You are suffering now because God loves you. You are suffering because God has an intended end for your life. You are suffering because where you are now is just not good enough for where God wants you to be. You are suffering because you are going to see the mercy of the Lord. You will suffer so you will see the faithfulness of God. You are suffering so when everybody else has been shooed into a corner and doesn’t have anything else to say, the Lord will have the last word and He will say: „I bought you and I keep you and I’m taking you all the way to heaven.

Word of faith theological crisis

At some point in your life, you’re gonna have a theological crisis. Oh, my Lord, the roads are strewn with Word of Faith people who said: This won’t happen and we won’t receive that and I will live and that won’t…  Well, there’s just a whole pile of them laying back there and they’re all stunned saying, „What happened? We thought we knew. We used our authority”. But they had a theological crisis. What they thought about the Bible did not measure up with the sovereignty of the Lord.

Abraham’s theological crisis

There was Abraham. God says to Him, not through Scriptures now, there was no Bible. He speaks to him. „Was it audibly pastor?” „I really don’t know. I know He spoke to him. That’s all that needs to be said”. And He told him, „Kill your son”. And, immediately Abraham had a theological crisis because God said to Noah, many, many years before that, when they came off the ark, „Whoever kills, must be killed”. That’s capital punishment. „Whoever takes the life of a man, his life must be taken, also.”  Now, here’s God telling this man of faith, „Kill your son”. I call that a theological crisis. I call that a conflict of what you’ve heard and known with what you are now hearing from God. How would you resolve that? You have to cause it’s in the Bible. What would you do with that? There’s nothing you can do except say,” Abraham trusted what God said and knew that at some point the theological crisis would work itself out and God never contradicts Himself, but He does things in a process that makes Him look like He contradicts Himself. And if you dwell on that you will confuse yourself and get defeated. But, if you will let  God be God and finish what He starts, you will glory in the Lord”.

Joseph’s theological crisis

How about Joseph? Now, you talk about a theological crisis? His great grandfather was Abraham. Now, after Abraham saw the goodness of the Lord and went through his and got it all worked out, he taught his grandson and his great grandson these kinds of things: If you honor and obey God, God will honor and bless you. So, here’s Joseph (thinking): I already know how God works.I’ve been taught well. My ancestors, my forefather, my great granddaddy… if anybody should know, great granddaddy Abraham should know, about great faith and trust in God… If you honor and obey God, God will bless you. And He did, and Joseph went to prison. What are you going to say about that? He honored God, he obeyed God, he ran from sin, he ran from adultery, he ran from everything that was displeasing to God and ended up in prison. Now, brother, when you’re lying in a jail cell after you’ve done the right thing and you’ve done all the good things and you are in a jail cell, separated from your family and nobody knows where you are and you don’t know if you’re gonna live till the sun comes up, I call that a theological crisis.

But, the Lord had an intended end. The Lord was in jail with him. The Lord sat with him, with His arm around him when he was confused, trying to figure it out. The Lord was there listening when Joseph said, „I did the right thing! I did everything I was supposed to do! How did I end up here?!” And the Lord sat there and listened to him and the Lord showed him later that if you’ll just wait patiently, if you’ll have faith in God, you’ll end up in a bigger, better place than you thought you would.

It doesn’t stop there. You talk about a theological crisis? Some of you are going through it right now, cause you had it all fixed, biblically. Didn’t you? You were taught well by very unscriptural people. You were taught well by people who knew the religion, who knew the dogma. You know I hate … Should I say this Lord? You know, it’s just between me and God.

I spoke recently at a place and when I left someone grabbed my hand and said, „Wow! You sound like a Reformed Pastor today!” Well, of course that means that you sound like a calvinist. I wanted to say, „That’s what you heard? You heard something that verifies your dogma and doctrine? You didn’t hear me talking about Jesus? Shame on you if you are that way; if when you hear a Gospel message you think, „Uha, I know that doctrine, that’s Calvin. Oh, I know that doctrine, that’s arminianism.” You need help!  Because the whole point of the Holy Spirit working in us is to get us out of that denominational junk and get us into a walk by faith Jesus.

The theological crisis of the 12 disciples

You talk about a crisis. Here are these 12 disciples. Jesus says to the people, „Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you don’t belong to me.” The Bible says, many of His disciples went away. Then He turned to His and said, „Are you going too?” Well, now here’s the theological crisis: Drink blood? From the earliest days of the Old Testament, Jews were taught- Don’t drink it. Even in the New Testament they were taught- Don’t drink blood and above everything- Don’t eat human flesh. That’s cannibalism. So, they had this instilled in them that you don’t touch, you don’t drink blood, you don’t eat anything that’s strangled and Jesus turns around and messes everything up and says, „If you’re gonna follow me, you’re gonna have to drink my blood. You gotta eat my flesh.

Theological crisis. Peter says, „Are you kidding us, Lord? People are leaving. The whole ministry’s just died. Jesus said, „What about you? Are you leaving too?” and Peter spoke up and said, „Where would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life?” Notice what he didn’t say, ” Where would we go cause You can walk on water? Where would we go, You raise the dead. Where would we go, you’re a miracle worker.  Where would we go, you’re the man.” But he said, „Where would we go, because you are the only one that can give us words. Speak to us! Give us a voice and lead us into eternal life and that’s how we ought to be living today.”

With the knowledge of the Holy Scripture, we ought to be walking by faith and listening to the Holy Spirit even when our faith seems to be coming apart and our lives seem to contradict what we’ve learned. We have to be able to live on the words of eternal life cause God’s not finished yet. The intended end has not arrived, as yet.

Here’s another theological crisis. Job was so conscientious. Do you know that the Bible says he didn’t lust, he didn’t lie, he didn’t steal, he treated his servants right, he did not worship false gods, he didn’t commit adultery, he didn’t do anything wrong and every day he got up and offered a sacrifice unto God on behalf of his children and then one day a tornado came and blew the house down and killed all his children. Theological crisis. I did everything I was supposed to do and then this happens? Yeah, because God’s intended end was not yet. I just wanna tell you that if you are in that dilemma, if you’ll just hang on, it will all work out and you will find out God was telling the truth all the time.

Here’s what I learned in my own life and my theology has changed. If you would have seen me 30 years ago, when I had thicker, darker, longer hair, man I looked like a Pentecostal evangelist of God. And I had preached sermons on joy: The reason you don’t have it is because you don’t claim it. And the reason you don’t have it is because you just decided not to have it. WOW it’s joy, you can live every day with joy! Joy, joy, joy unspeakable and full of glory. I feel joy up in here. Joy, joy, joy. People can have joy if they want it!

Nope, there have been lots of time when I have not had joy. LOTS OF TIMES. I could not find a trace of spirituality or joy in my life. And you gotta live long enough, and thank God He lets us live long enough, cause there’s nothing more dangerous than a young preacher who’s never been through a crisis, who’s never had to bury a family member, who’s never had to go through cancer, who hasn’t seen babies die… But, you get to a point in your life where you say honestly, before God that you don’t have joy. I ain’t having fun. And what about those bold statements like, „God doesn’t want you to be sick?” I now believe, today, that God uses physical infirmity to mature me. I’ve known too many sick saints who won more people to Jesus on a hospital bed. Sick saints, broke saints, discouraged saints, heartbroken saints that won more people to Jesus and encouraged more brothers and sisters than many of us who haven’t been through it. Oh, I believe it now! Because God is sovereign and God will take whatever He desires and sees necessary and do it in your life, not only to work out the self confidence, but the arrogance of your faith, but to be able to build up the brotherhood and edify the church.

Oh, I used to say, „And nothing, shall by any means harm you. You can take up serpents and you can drink any deadly thing and I shall speak with new tongues, but I especially like that one „and nothing shall by any means hurt you”. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been hurt a lot. God’s people hurt. Do you understand me? There’s pain in the body of Christ. There’s pain in the saintliest of homes. There’s pain and agony where every member of the house is filled with the Holy Spirit and living by faith. There’s pain. When Shannon was giving prayer request and that brother from our church who lost 5 family members, do you think he’s having fun? Do you think he has joy? Do you think he’s not hurt?

Ladies and gentlemen, there comes a time when you have to take your theology and drop it the way Moses dropped the tablets of the law and realize that’s not just for you to carry around and give pat answers about everything that happens in life. No, you are to hear form God. The Spirit of the Lord can speak to you and when He does, He will coincide and affirm this written word, and when God finishes, you will see that the intended end He designed was the most marvelous thing. And you had to go through the loss and through the pain to get there. That’s why God taught us to praise Him for everything. In everything give thanks because God is taking us to an intended end.

James 5:11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

When you get to the end and you thought you couldn’t make it, you find out that it was God’s compassion and God’s mercy that kept you, that will keep you. That’s the intended end of the Lord.

I want to end with this: When you’re in that… well, there sits Tony right there, Hazel had her first chemo treatment on Thursday. Now that’s a praying woman. Kind, compassionate… she’s laying in the house… surgery, chemo, may lose her hair. Tell me: Why?  What’s going on? Why wouldn’t God have done that when she was 28, so she could live a long time and tell about it? Because only God knows His ways and He has an intended end for Hazel and for you and for you sir. I see you, Ron. I pray for you every night before I go to bed. I know you’re fighting this cancer thing, but I want you to know. I want you to hear it today and I want you to hear it in the house of God: God has an intended end. This is not punishment, this is a blessing from the Lord, so you can find out how merciful and compassionate God really is.

I want to close with this because we have instructions about what we should do while we are going through this. 1 Peter 4:19 „Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator„.  Did you hear me? It’s the will of God… meaning, „I don’t care what I’m going through Lord, I am yours and you’re mine. I don’t have an answer, I don’t have any strength, I don’t know what to do next, but I’m yours and you’re mine. I commit my soul to You. You have me, you got me, take all of me. I’m not gonna back up, I’m not gonna quit. I’m not gonna second guess myself. I’m committed to letting you keep me „. And I’m gonna do it by „doing good” (1 Peter 4:19) I may feel bad, but, I’m gonna do good. I’m just gonna do the right thing. I’m gonna do good things. I’m gonna bless people. I’m gonna serve people. I’m gonna serve the Lord.  I’m gonna keep it up. I will not quit. As to a faithful Creator. Creator? Yup, he-s the one that put you together, designed you, numbered your days, gives you life and breath. He created me! I’m the workmanship of His hands. So what He created, He’s not gonna destroy. I’m a new creation in Christ Jesus and He is faithful. Faithful Creator. What does that mean? If He loved me enough to create me, in Christ Jesus, He will be faithful enough to finish what He started. He’ll take me to the intended end.

John Piper – (1)Job rebuked in suffering

you can listen to the audio sermon here at DesiringGod.org

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From chapter 4 to 31 Job conversed with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, about the meaning of suffering. The upshot of it all was that the theory of his friends was unsatisfactory.

The Unsatisfactory Theory of Job’s Friends

They had argued that suffering is basically punishment for sin and prosperity is reward for righteousness (4:7–8). Eliphaz had admitted (in 5:17) that some suffering was chastisement and could be good for us, but it becomes clear that for him this is the exception, not the rule, and that protracted suffering like Job’s could not be explained this way. So he winds up saying to Job, „Is not your wickedness great!” (22:5). Job’s extraordinary suffering can only be explained as the punishment of God for grievous sin.

Job had defended himself all along by saying, contrary to his three friends’ opinion, that there is good evidence from all over the world that the wicked often prosper and the righteous often suffer (21:29–30). And in his case in particular he was not an enemy of God and had not committed any grievous sin that would set him up for such suffering above others.

So Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were not able to sustain their theory in the face of Job’s realism and integrity. Their speeches became repetitive, hostile, and shorter as the conversation comes to a close. Finally, only Job was left speaking.

The Argument Won, the Question Unanswered

He has won the argument. But he has not answered his question. He has shown that suffering cannot be explained by the simple principle of retributive justice, where each person gets what he deserves: suffering for the evil and prosperity for the good. But he has found no other answer.

We are left at the end of chapter 31 with the apparent capriciousness of God. All seems to be arbitrary. God rules the affairs of men. And no doubt he does so wisely (28:12–28). That Job never doubts. But why the righteous suffer—so far he has no answer.

It would be possible to live the rest of our lives at this level of understanding. Many Christians try. We could simply say, „Yes, I believe God rules over the world and controls what happens. I also believe that he is just and wise. And I believe that, though things look capricious and arbitrary in this life, all wrongs will be righted in the age to come. He has shown me his love in Jesus Christ and I know he is the only hope for meaning in life now and for salvation in the world to come. So I will be still and trust God, though I cannot understand his strange ways.”

That is not a bad way to live. But the writer of the book of Job is not satisfied to live that way. And he wants his readers to know that God has not concealed all of his ways. There is more to see of God’s purpose in suffering than we may think.

Elihu Breaks In

So a young man appears on the scene in chapter 32 named Elihu. His speech goes all the way through chapter 37. And here we learn something that neither Job nor his friends had discovered, namely, that the suffering of the righteous is not a token of God’s enmity but of his love. It is not a punishment of their sins but a refinement of their righteousness. It is not a preparation for destruction, but a protection from destruction.

The three friends have been wrong—suffering is not the proof of wickedness. And Job had been wrong—his suffering was not the proof of God’s arbitrariness. Nor had God become his enemy. Elihu has come to put the argument on a new footing.

Five Reasons We Should Accept Elihu’s Counsel

Let’s begin our survey of Elihu’s theology by asking why we should accept it. Many interpreters understand Elihu as no better than Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar. For example, I gathered from one commentator’s 40 pages on Elihu’s speeches the following labels: Elihu is cruel, cold, detached, crass, trite, perfectionist, vain, etc. (Francis Anderson, TOTC).

I admit that there are some things in Elihu’s speeches very hard to understand. And it is true that when you read his speeches, you hear some of the same things the three friends said (they were not totally wrong!). And it is true he is tough with Job, perhaps too tough sometimes.

But there are at least five reasons why I take the words of Elihu to represent the truth as our inspired writer saw it. In other words, I think Elihu gives the first step in solving Job’s problem, and that God then speaks in chapters 38–41 and gives the final conclusive word. Here are the five reasons I think this.

1. His Speech Is Presented as Something New

The words of Elihu are introduced to us in chapter 32 not as a continuation or repetition of what the three friends had said, but as something new. Verses 1–3:

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.

In other words Elihu disagrees with both sides of the argument. So he says in verse 14 to the three friends, „He (i.e., Job) has not directed his words against me, and I will not answer him with your speeches.” So Elihu has no intention of trying to settle the matter the way the three friends did. The writer wants us to listen to something new that takes us beyond the old argument.

2. Six Chapters Devoted to His Words

The second reason that I think Elihu is more than a continuation of bad theology, is that the writer devotes six chapters to his words (32–37).

The inadequacy of the theology of the three friends was demonstrated by the fact that their speeches got shorter near the end, and then died out completely. Bildad finishes with six verses (chapter 25), and Zophar can’t even manage a closing comment.

It would be very strange, then, if Elihu were given six chapters at this point to say all the inadequate things all over again and make no advance on the inadequate theology of these other three friends. Surely this large space given to his words signals that something crucial is being said here.

3. Job’s Response to Elihu

Job does not try to argue with Elihu.

He had been successful in silencing Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, but he does not say one word against Elihu even though Elihu challenged him in 33:32, „If you have anything to say, answer me.” The easiest explanation for this silence is that Job agreed with him. In fact, in 42:6 Job does repent for some of the things he said, which shows that Elihu’s rebukes are not all wide of the mark.

4. God’s Response to Elihu

In 42:7 God looks back over the period of suffering and rebukes Job’s three friends,

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: „My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

But God does not rebuke Elihu. Why not? Probably because Elihu’s words are not in the same class with the words of those three. Elihu’s words are true and prepare the way for the final, decisive words of God. (He claims to be guided by the Spirit of God—32:8.)

5. He Offers Something New and Helpful

Finally, Elihu really does offer a new understanding of the suffering of the righteous that Job and his three friends had not perceived. And his insight does indeed make sense out of the apparently arbitrary suffering that Job and other righteous people go through. Let’s try to learn this morning what this young man has to say.

Elihu’s Rebuke of Job

Elihu thinks that Job has been wrong in some of what he has said—indeed, he sees pride and arrogance in Job’s attitude (see 33:17; 35:12; 36:9). In 33:8–12 he puts his finger on Job’s error:

Surely, you have spoken in my hearing, and I have heard the sound of your words. You say, „I am clean, without transgression; I am pure, and there is no iniquity in me. Behold [God] finds occasions against me, he counts me as his enemy; he puts my feet in the stocks, and watches all my paths.” Behold in this you are not right.

Job is wrong to claim innocence at the expense of God’s grace. We know that Elihu is right about this because in 42:6 Job does in fact repent: „I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” His suffering had driven him to say things about himself that were overly optimistic and things about God that were disrespectful. Even though Job was a righteous man, he was not a sinlessly perfect man. There was a sediment of pride that began to cloud the purity of his life when it was stirred up by suffering.

Elihu’s Explanation of Suffering

At least part of Elihu’s understanding of why the righteous suffer has to do with this residue of pride in the life of the righteous. We see the first explanation of his view in 33:14–19. He describes two ways God speaks to man: by his word and by suffering. These were the days before Scripture, so the word of God takes the form of visions and dreams. He says,

For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man; he keeps back his soul from the Pit, his life from perishing by the sword.

Man is also chastened with pain upon his bed, and with continual strife in his bones.

Not to Punish but to Save

So Elihu puts the pain of sickness and visions of the night side by side as two ways that God speaks to man for his good. Verse 17 describes God’s purpose: „That he may turn man aside from his deed, and cut off pride from man, and keep back his soul from the Pit.”

In other words God’s purpose for the righteous in these dreams and in this sickness is not to punish but to save—to save from contemplated evil deeds and from pride and ultimately from death. Elihu does not picture God as an angry judge but as a Redeemer, a Savior, a Rescuer, a Doctor. The pain he causes is like the surgeon’s knife, not like the executioner’s whip.

The „Righteous Sinner”

Elihu explains his view of suffering in one other place, namely, 36:6–15. The helpful thing in these verses is that Elihu makes clear that there is such a thing as a righteous person who still has sin that needs to be revealed and rooted out. To call a person righteous does not mean that the person is sinlessly perfect. There is a „righteous sinner.”

This is helpful because God himself called Job a righteous man in 1:1, and Job won his argument on the basis of his reputation as a righteous man. And yet at the end of the book Job repents and despises himself. So Job is righteous (by the testimony of God!) even though he has sin remaining in him. He is not among the wicked.

Elihu looks at these two groups of people, the wicked and the righteous, and he distinguishes the different roles that suffering has in each. We’ll start reading at verse 6:

He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings upon the throne he sets them for ever, and they are exalted.

Now if he had stopped there, he would have sounded exactly like Eliphaz: the wicked suffer and the righteous prosper. There is a sense in which this is true in the long run. But the question plaguing Job is why the righteous suffer in the short run. So Elihu goes on in verse 8:

And if they [that is, the righteous] are bound in fetters and caught in the cords of affliction [so Elihu admits right away that the righteous are not always with kings on the throne; they do suffer], then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction, and commands that they return from iniquity.

In other words the righteous are far from sinlessly perfect. There is much of the old nature left in them, and from time to time this old nature of pride breaks out in actual sinful behavior—as it did with Job when he accused God of being his enemy. This is what Job repents of at the end of the book.

Suffering Refines the Righteous

Elihu’s teaching, then, is that affliction makes a righteous person sensitive to his remaining sinfulness and helps him hate it and renounce it. Suffering opens the ear of the righteous (v. 10). The psalmist said the same thing in Psalm 119:71, „It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.” There are dimensions of godliness that the righteous can only learn through affliction.

So the new slant that Elihu gives is that the suffering of the righteous is not the fire of destruction but the fire that refines the gold of their goodness. For the righteous it is not punitive but curative.

The Purpose of Suffering for the Godless and the Righteous

Verses 13–15 describe the same contrast between the purpose of suffering for the godless and the purpose of suffering for the righteous.

The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. They die in youth, and their life ends in shame. He delivers the afflicted by their affliction, and opens their ear by adversity.

Verses 13–14 describe one group of people for whom suffering results in nothing but destruction—they are the „godless in heart.” But then (in v. 15) he describes another group whose ears are opened in their affliction and who experience deliverance by their affliction. These are not the godless or the wicked. They are the righteous. They are the people like Job, who are upright, and fear God, and turn away from evil, and have a blameless reputation. They suffer, too. But the divine purpose is not the same.

How Has Elihu Added to Our Understanding?

How then, we may ask, has Elihu advanced our understanding beyond the impasse between Job and his three friends?

His Two Complaints

We go back to the beginning of Elihu’s speech in 32:2–3. He had two complaints.

  1. He was angry because Job justified himself rather than God;
  2. and he was angry at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.

Elihu has now succeeded in showing why his anger was justified in both cases.

1. He Shows Why Job’s Three Friends Are Wrong

He showed Job’s three friends to be wrong. They said that the only way to explain Job’s suffering was to say that God was punishing him for sin. Elihu shows that this is not the way to explain Job’s suffering.

The righteous do suffer. And their suffering is not a punishment for sin but a refinement of their righteousness. Suffering awakens their ear to new dimensions of God’s reality and new depths of their own imperfection and need. Suffering deepens their faith and godliness. So the three friends of Job are wrong.

2. He Shows Why Job Is Wrong

But Job is wrong too. He had no better explanation of his suffering than his three friends did. His conception of God’s justice was basically the same as theirs. Only Job insisted he was righteous, and so he could not make his suffering fit with the justice of God. He became so exasperated at times that he thought of God as his enemy.

How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin. Why dost thou hide thy face, and count me as thy enemy? (13:23–24)

Elihu said that Job was wrong to justify himself at God’s expense like this (33:8–12). God was NOT Job’s enemy and Job is not as pure as he claims to be. God is in fact Job’s loving Father. He has allowed this sickness to drag on for months because he loves Job, not because he hates him.

The suffering has brought out the hidden sin of pride in Job. Now Job’s ear has been opened to his remaining imperfection. Now he can repent and be cleansed and depend on God as he never had before. His suffering was not only an occasion for God to get glory over Satan (which we saw in chapters 1 and 2); it was also an occasion for God to deepen Job’s insight and trust and godliness.

The Central Lesson

So the central lesson for us from the book of Job today is that the children of God—those who trust in God and are led by his Spirit and have their sins covered by the blood of Jesus—may indeed suffer. And when they do, it is not a punishment for sin. Christ has borne the punishment for our sin, and there is no double jeopardy!

The suffering of the children of God is not the firm application of a principle of retributive justice. It is the free application of the principle of sovereign grace. Our Father in heaven has chosen us freely from before the foundation of the world, he regenerated us freely by the work of the Holy Spirit, he justified us freely through the gift of saving faith, and he is now sanctifying us freely by his grace through suffering according to his infinite wisdom.

Suffering is not dispensed willy-nilly among the people of God. It is apportioned to us as individually designed, expert therapy by the loving hand of our great Physician. And its aim is that our faith might be refined, our holiness might be enlarged, our soul might be saved, and our God might be glorified.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6–7)

Our Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10–11)

We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)

Therefore, count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

from © Desiring God

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