20–26 September 2015.
When Job’s friends see his great pain, at first they say nothing. But soon they feel like they should explain to Job why he is suffering so much. They offer a lot of poor arguments, none of which satisfy us today – and none of which satisfied Job.
In today’s chapter we see Eliphaz’s second speech to Job. Job had criticized God’s justice and his management of the world, and this makes Eliphaz angry. In v. 4, Eliphaz argues that to criticise God like this is to destroy people’s faith in God and stop them from worshipping him. For Eliphaz, it’s easy to understand the world and suffering: people suffer because they are evil sinners and God is punishing them! Sometimes we hear people today still saying the same thing. But Job knows what a poor, and even dangerous answer this is. This just can’t be right.
In the New Testament, Jesus agrees with Job. Jesus confirms for us, and tells his disciples over and over again, that we can’t simply connect suffering with God’s punishment. In John 9:1–3, Jesus tells us that a man’s suffering and blindness has nothing to do with sin or with God’s punishment. In Luke 13:1–5, he tells us that towers don’t fall on people because this is God’s judgement, and people aren’t murdered because God hates them. We can’t look at victims of disasters and suffering and with a cold heart say that they must be evil people.
Sadly Eliphaz, Jesus’s disciples, and even many people today still believe that all suffering is indeed God’s punishment. But Jesus rejects this – and he encourages us to reject this idea too. Because if we see those who suffer as being punished by God, we would never go help them. We would never care for them, or have compassion on them.
Like Eliphaz, are hearts would be hard when we see other people’s pain, and we would reject them as terrible sinners. But Jesus commands us to love those who suffer, to care for them and help them, not to criticize them as evil.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis