Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"To speak or not to speak, that is the question!"

Day #12:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - January 9th

Scripture Reading:  Job 3-4 ...

Have you ever longed for a word from someone, only to have a friend come and speak to you and then wish they would just ... be quiet?!  That must be how Job felt when his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to visit him.  Job had just weathered what was perhaps the worst string of bad luck any man has ever faced in such a rapid-fire sequence.  He had just lost his ten children and the bulk of his multitude of possessions.  Then he was struck with painful sores from head to toe and his wife had told him that he should just "curse God and die!" (2:10).  Can someone give a good word to Job?

Enter Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  Apparently, they had heard of Job's calamities and they set out to go and sympathize with him and to comfort him.  Of course, we know that God was already deeply engaged in Job's life and in his present circumstances.  And Job knew that God had not abandoned him.  In fact, that is what he was holding onto when he responded to his wife's bad advice by saying, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10).  What Job needed was someone to agree with him, to confirm the basis of his faith in God.

What he got, however, was something quite different.  The friendly trio were astonished when they saw Job because they hardly recognized him.  It was the moment of decision:  What should they do?  What should they say?  Their conclusion:  Weep, groan, mourn ... and say ... nothing ...  And this was supposed to help - how?  Sympathy, empathy and compassion are all good things, but people who are going through extreme trials need TRUTH!  Job knew God.  His friends knew that he knew God.  So they should have prayed with him, comforted him by testifying to God's faithfulness, encouraged him to keep trusting in the Lord  - all of the above!  But instead they dug a hole of sorrow for Job and the proceeded to throw him in, saying absolutely nothing to point him to the hope that could have been his through faith in the God he knew.

The result was that Job cries out foolishly from the hole they have just ushered him into.  They have spent seven days declaring, "Woe is Job!" So Job simply joins in their grieving, saying, "Woe is ME!"  Here are three words that should never be spoken by a believer.  The entire third chapter is an extended whining session allowed to go much too far.  Job declares that it would have been better if he had never been born, or if he had been stillborn.  Then at least he would have peace.

It is only when Job expresses what his three friends apparently expected him to express that Eliphaz speaks.  Now, it should be said that throughout the conversation between Job and his three friends, a number of true things are said, about God and how He works and even concerning Job and his situation.  But mixed with these moments are many false assumptions and inaccurate statements that confuse and distort what is actually happening in Job's life.  Bad theology always misleads people and leaves them in doubt and confusion.

Eliphaz declares that he has never seen the righteous suffer like Job is suffering.  Rather, it is the evil who perish.  In chapter 4, verses 12-17, it seems as though Eliphaz is claiming to have heard a word from a spirit:  "Can a mortal be more righteous than God?  Can a man be more pure than his Maker?" (4:17).  And he then goes on to virtually accuse Job of sin and weakness.  If God has no trust in his servants and charges his angels with error, "how much more those who live in houses of clay (Job), whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth?" (4:18-19).  And in verses 20-21 he predicts such men will perish and die without wisdom.

Wow!  Thanks, Eliphaz!!  First you say nothing, grieving and wailing as though Job was already dead, and then when Job really needs you to correct and encourage him, you judge him guilty of wrongdoing and leave him with no hope.  As the old saying goes, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?" 

Learn from Job's friends what NOT to do in a situation where people are going through extreme trials.  I think of the words of Paul to the Corinthians when he writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God"  (II Corinthians 1:3-4 ... see also verses 5-7, and 4:8-9).  There are many other verses in Scripture that are helpful to share with those who are going through trials and suffering.

Speak in these situations, but be sure that what you are speaking is a true word from God!  Compassion is one thing; pity is another.  We need each other, so be ready to be an instrument of healing and God will use you to lift others up - not push them in a hole of despair!

"Father, give me wisdom to speak Your Word to those who suffer, that they may receive the same comfort you have given me in times of trouble and be encouraged to trust in You, our faithful God!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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