Reading: Job 15-17
Job's counselors ask a good question, even if sarcastically.
What do you know that we do not know? What insights do you have that we do not have? (Job 15:9)
Job knew something his counselors did not understand. Job understood something his counselors had not conceived. That the righteous can suffer seemingly unexplainable woes that have nothing to do with their sin.
Job wasn't the first to introduce this concept. Abel was...unless, of course, we include God who was rejected in the garden after placing man in paradise. Then we have Joseph who suffered at the hands of his brothers untold cruelty in Egypt.
Job's counselors didn't have a category for this. Suffering, in their thinking, was the result of sin... personal sin committed by the one who was suffering. It was a simple formula: God blesses right living; God punishes wrong living. If the world was not already estranged from God, this may well have worked out. But in this fallen world, in need of redemption, that just isn't the case. Sometimes the wicked prosper, and sometimes the righteous suffer.
Job understood the tendency which his counselors had, to assume that disaster was the misfortune of the wrong-doer, when he says,
4I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. 5But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief. (Job 16:4-5)
I think here we find some real wisdom for how to help the sufferer: let our mouth encourage them, let our lips comfort them and bring relief. Let us not jump to looking for causes (see Careful How You Use Your Theology).
Don't get me wrong. I understand that Job had sinned, as had Abel, and Joseph. But his sin is not the cause, or reason for his suffering. That is made clear in the first two chapters of Job. (See Job 1:22; 2:10). However, in Job we discover that not only is his sin not the cause of his suffering, it seems that his righteousness is the cause of his suffering.
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8)
Abel suffered because of his righteousness (Genesis 4:3-4); Joseph's sufferings also seem to be for righteousness' sake (Genesis 37:2). And both Abel and Joseph foreshadow (are a type of) Christ. Job also points us to the Savior in this regard as he suffered not in spite of his righteousness, but indeed because of his righteousness. Look at these verses which describe Job, and see how they also are things which could be said of Christ in His suffering (and in many cases are).
10Men open their mouths to jeer at me; they strike my cheek in scorn and unite together against me. 11God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. (Job 16:10-11) Compare with Matthew 26:67-68.
16My face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes; 17yet my hands have been free of violence and my prayer is pure. (Job 16:16-17) Compare with Luke 22:41-44.
6God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit. 7My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow. 8Upright men are appalled at this; the innocent are aroused against the ungodly. (Job 17:6-8) Compare with Isaiah 52:14; 53:3 and Matthew 27:29, 31, 41.
Job was suffering because of his righteousness, and the Savior, the Pure and Innocent One, was suffering because of His righteousness, and for our sin (and Job's as well). Job's counselor's may well be summarized in the mocking that Jesus received, “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'” (Matthew 27:43) Let us make sure in caring for those who suffer that we not assume that it is because of their sin, and take an attitude of “Let God rescue him now if he wants him”. It may be that God has sent you and me to rescue them.
We too are called upon to live lives that can fill this role.
20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20-21)
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