Your "truth"? Your friend's "truth"? Does suffering come after sin? #Questions

If you want to make my blood boil, tell me about “your truth”.

Seriously, try to tell me how something is true for you but it may or may not be true for someone else.

Granted, I understand the concept of perspective. For example, the Gospel accounts of Resurrection morning (Easter) list different accounts. However, while that may seem to question the veracity, I believe it only affirms the Story. We have different perspectives highlighting what was pertinent to the respective author. There aren’t different “truths” but rather different points of view, or perspectives.

In the conversations that we read in Job, we have different perspectives on God. There is only ONE God. There is only one Truth about Him. However, as these four (and eventually five) men wrestle back and forth, their perspectives on Who God is vary.

Let’s begin with Eliphaz.

He’s from Teman. It’s a city in the region of Edom (south of the Dead Sea) which was named after Esau (see Genesis 25 ff.). Those details aside, we simply don’t know anything else.

Job is the one who speaks first. After the seven days / nights, he begins by cursing the day of his birth. He calls down curse after curse after curse. He wonders why he was born at all and why he is still alive. He wonders Why, o why, will death not come?

Wow.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by struggles that you just wanted to quit? Maybe curl up in a ball and hide? Wave the white flag and surrender?

I have.

To be clear, I’m not talking about suicide. I can’t say I have never thought of it, but even the smallest thought left quickly. Why? Suicide does nothing. The person may feel “free”, but the suffering of everyone else continues. I can’t share the stories I know from others because those aren’t my stories. (Even the ways in which my life has been personally touched by suicide involve the stories that are more heavily felt by others.)

But what I am trying to share is the point of being crushed by circumstances so much that you don’t know what else to do. I know what depression is because I’ve been there. I know what emotional pain is because I’ve been there. I know what it is like to crawl into bed and never want to get out.

And to wonder how much longer it can go on…

I believe Eliphaz had the best of intentions. It’s offensive to think otherwise. [How many of you would be willing to go seven days and seven nights sitting with another person in the depths of his or her grief?] And so, as he began to respond to Job, I think he did it with kindness.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” Job 4: 1-4

Look at it this way. There is the sense of a plea: “Don’t be impatient with me. I have to share.” And then he calls for Job to remember the times in which he, Job, has spoken with others. “You’ve instructed. You’ve strengthened feeble hands and weak knees. You’ve supported those who are stumbling.” Don’t you have the sense that Eliphaz is almost begging Job to listen?

Eliphaz’s next few words hurt. And then they sting. And then they irritate. And then they make me want to say “Them’s fightin’ words!

But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed. Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope? Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. At the breath of God they perish; at the blast of his anger they are no more. Job 4: 5-9

It sounds sort-of ok at first. Perhaps a gentle reminder? We don’t know Eliphaz’s heart to know whether the “piety and confidence / blameless ways and hope” are intended to turn his eyes back to God. Maybe there is back-handed love in reminding Job that the innocent do not perish and the upright aren’t destroyed? (I say back-handed because Job would most likely have immediately thought of his children who perished.)

But then the stinger breaks skin as Eliphaz continues with “As I have observed…

In Eliphaz’s worldview, suffering is a result of sin. Job must have done something wrong or else he would not be going through what he is going through right now. Seven dead sons and three dead daughters. His animals and servants all dead. This is not normal so, Job, what did you do?

Eliphaz then justifies his words by claiming to have a secret vision from God.

A word was secretly brought to me, my ears caught a whisper of it. Amid disquieting dreams in the night, when deep sleep falls on people… Job 4: 12-13

In words that make me think of sitting around a campfire while someone tells ghost stories, Eliphaz goes on to describe how his hair stood up when a spirit glided past him. “Fear and trembling seized me and made all my bones shake.” Spooky stuff!

Granted, in this “secret vision” he shares, there was some truth. We cannot be more righteous than God. We should not place our hope in our own abilities and good works. That’s all truth. That is something that we should all believe. God is perfect and we are not.

But some truth doesn’t equal all truth.

If I tell you that I can count to ten and then say: “one, three, five, two, eleven, eight, nine, four, thirteen, six, seven, ten”, have I really counted to ten? I’ve included all of the numbers you need, but I also added in two extras. I also didn’t have the numbers in the right order. So, while you may say that I have successfully counted to ten, I haven’t really, have I?

Eliphaz’s overall theme is wrong. God is not a cosmic hammer-swinger. He’s not waiting to smite us for a misstep (sin). And, if you continue to Job 15 and read his second speech, you see it doesn’t get any better. To summarize: If you are bad, bad things happen. If you are good, good things happen. In the third speech (Job 22), Eliphaz states how Job was really not the greatest man in all the east (which we read in the very beginning of the book). He accuses Job of withholding food and water from those in need; taking clothing from those who had nothing; being cruel to widows and orphans. All of the things that we thought Job had done right, Eliphaz now says Job did wrong.

Eliphaz’s bottom-line: Job sins and Job is punished.

Honestly, there are days when I wish Eliphaz was right.

If he was correct, then I could do some good things and I would feel better. I could tell a friend that the reason he went through job struggles is because he was sinning. If he stopped whatever that particular sin was, the punishment would stop. I could tell friends that all they needed to do to fix financial struggles was to be better.

Poof. Be good and life is good. That would be easier.

But here is the problem. Suffering is not the result of sin. To be clear, it can be. If I decide to rob a bank, get arrested, and thrown in prison, I will suffer. That suffering is a direct result of my sin. If I am in a bank and it is robbed and the robber shoots me, the pain I feel is the direct result of the bank robber’s sin.

There is a difference between the punishments for sin and consequences of sin. While I don’t want to leave the conversation hanging, I do want to take a break now. Email me your thoughts (or corrections to my thinking!) or comment if you wish.

Yours in Christ,

Marty