Saturday, 27 August 2011

of Job's Buddies, Blind Mice, and God's Sovereignty

"Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent"
Proverbs 17:28

I’ve been reading the Book of Job again lately. In earlier readings I often seemed to reflect on Job’s misfortune and the fact that even Satan himself couldn’t do anything to Job without God’s permission (Job 1:12). We know the rest of the story of how suddenly Job’s whole world turned upside down with one calamity after another in quick succession. Satan mercilessly did some horrible stuff to that God-fearing righteous man that we’ve come to know and love as Job. Yes, bad stuff can happen to good people and, Job teaches us sometimes, though Satan may be behind it all, God permits it. I confess that I have struggled with that a bit.

This time, however, my focus seemed to change in reading Job. Let me set the stage a little. Apparently Job had three friends who came to him when they heard about his misfortunes. We are told that they didn’t even recognize him at first, and nobody said anything for a whole week (Job 2:12-13); they all just sat there together in silence. That silence part I could relate to, as a number of times I’ve visited people who were dying, and there simply were no words; all I could do was sit there and hold their hand in silence. Still, I can’t imagine doing that for a whole week.

Suddenly after about a week of silence, Job begins to speak. He says his piece, and then his buddy Eliphaz decides that it is time for him to counsel Job. Then Job comes back with his rebuttal, which is followed by the other buddy, Bildad, jumping on the bandwagon with Eliphaz against Job. After yet another rebuttal by Job, Zophar, the third buddy, joins the melee. So it goes, back and forth throughout many chapters until Chapter 38, when the Lord God apparently had enough of the whole bantering back and forth, and steps into the discussion Himself.

Now I haven’t checked, but I doubt the commentaries would describe the whole scenario quite that way. But inside my spirit, that’s what I was starting to wonder about. I saw a bunch of religious discussion that was, perhaps, not unlike the sort of thing many of us engage in ourselves quite regularly. Some of the social networking sites of today are full of Job’s and their buddies. The discussion on the nature of God and the church and who knows whatever else, sounds almost like it came right out of the pages of Job. I know and confess, that I’ve also been guilty of it myself from time to time.

The thing is, their arguments often sound valid. Sometimes you would be hard pressed to pick out heresy. At first glance it all sounds religious enough. It wasn’t a simple case of a righteous Job against the consortium of his unrighteous friends. For example, Job himself acknowledged wisdom in parts of Bildad’s response (Job 9:2). No, it all was just a healthy philosophical discussion, wasn’t it? Apparently, no, it wasn’t. God Himself set the record straight when He said to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

In other words, though Job’s buddies each ‘thought’ they understood what was going on, and though they each ‘thought’ they had all this spiritual insight, the truth of the matter is that they were wrong. Despite all the rant, despite all the “wisdom of their own minds,” God essentially said, “You blew it, guys!”

The main argument that Job’s buddies seemed to be concerned with was that Job’s situation was due to some sin in Job’s life that he had not yet repented of. Their argument was that God wouldn’t do, or allow, such catastrophes to come upon an innocent person. Since Job was plagued with all that horrible stuff in his life, they reasoned that he must therefore be guilty before God of something. What they didn’t understand is that God did it, or allowed it, simply because He sovereignly chose to do or to allow it. Period. God doesn’t have to explain Himself. He says “Yes” or “No” simply because He is God.

There is a great scriptural illustration of this in Romans 9. I would strongly recommend reading that chapter again very carefully. Now I am not promoting what has often been called a Calvinistic argument over an Arminian one. In fact, I am not promoting any particular doctrines at all. I am simply taking what I see in the pages of the Bible at face value. If the Bible says something, I am going on the assumption that it means what it says and that it does not mean something different than it says. Obviously there are places that we do not interpret the Bible literally, but I do not believe that Romans 9 is one of those places.

God does as God wills; He doesn’t do as man wills. Sure, God does answer prayers and often does grant us the desires of our hearts, however ultimately His actions correspond to His sovereign will. Sometimes His answers to us are simply “No.” When that happens, like Job we may like an explanation, but God simply doesn’t have to explain Himself to us at all.

Getting back to Romans 9, note God’s choosing (election) of Jacob over Esau (vs.10-12). Note also that nothing depends on man’s effort; it’s all a question of God’s mercy to certain specific individuals over other individuals (vs.16-18). In this context, this is not an equal or universal mercy to all. Rather it is specifically given (or not given) to whomever God sovereignly wills.

The main question here is, does not God (as Creator), have the right to do and act as He wants to do? Forget all those doctrines that, for some of you, are no doubt raising some red flags right now. For a minute think on that question. Does God not have the right to do as He chooses? “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21; NIV).

God “chose” to allow the problems to come Job’s way simply and for no apparent other reason than because God chose to do so. We, on the other hand, are quick to object with our “but, but, but.” Paul says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Romans 9:20; NIV). It all had nothing to do with whether Job was innocent or guilty of some sin. In fact God Himself called Job “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8), so we know that it wasn’t a case of him being guilty as Job’s friends argued that he was. God simply chose to do and allow that which He, as Sovereign Creator, chose to do and allow. Job himself said the same thing when he said, “He [God] does whatever He pleases” (Job 23:13). That was, and continues to be, God’s right.

I’m sorry to say, but this whole discussion between Job and his buddies sounds so much like the church today! Everyone has their own understanding and their own “word from the Lord” that they’re quick to insist on sharing. How many times haven’t we heard (or said it ourselves), “The Lord told me…” this or that. How many times haven’t we heard a brother or sister say, “I see this” or “I see that” in the Scriptures? Any quick cursory glance through the church history textbooks will always bring us face to face with a “Job and his buddies.” There has always been one group of believers discussing doctrines with another group of believers, each accusing the other of some misunderstanding of Scripture. The only thing that is produced is more “dissensions and factions” (Galatians 5:20) in the Body. The only thing that gets promoted through all this is the “acts of the sinful nature” as opposed to the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-26).

Maybe I’m even doing that right now myself as I type these very words! Aren’t we all sometimes guilty of being “Legends in our own minds” as it were? Aren’t we all sometimes related to Job’s buddies? After all, we’re all Christians, right? Doesn’t that mean that we’ve cornered the market on understanding God? No, we don’t really believe that, but we sure act like we do sometimes.

I would like to suggest that we do NOT fully understand all the nature and workings of Heavenly Father. If we “see” anything at all, it is only a small part of the big picture. I believe that is ultimately what the problem with Job’s buddies was; they only saw a small part of the big picture, but they thought they understood it all. Paul said, “now we see in a mirror DIMLY, but then face to face. Now I know in PART; then I shall know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12; emphasis mine). Are we OK with that? Are we OK with only seeing a small piece of the bigger picture? Can we leave our “know-it-all” pride alone long enough to realize that, this side of Glory, there will always be some things that we simply will not know about the nature of God and His workings in this world? Isn’t that where faith comes in?

Job was crying out for help and his friends only wanted to debate the doctrines. Sarcastically Job says to his buddies, “What wonderful helps you all are! And how you have encouraged me in my great need!” (Job 26:2; Living Bible). In trying to help someone who is hurting, it’s often best to simply be there (silently) with him or her in that dark hour. This Job’s buddies did in their first week together; kudos to them for doing that. If only they had kept their mouths shut and their opinions a little more to themselves! It is true that Job was the first one to break the silence, but I really do not believe that in doing so, he was looking for a theological debate from his friends. Is it possible that all Job wanted to do when he broke the silence was to vent off some frustration and pain? The three friends would have been wise if they had allowed for that.

This takes me back to some seminary counseling courses. In counseling, one of the goals of the counselor is to get the counselee talking. This is often done with a few pointed questions, but certainly not with long and winded monologues as Job’s buddies had done. In most cases the least amount of taking by the counselor is probably the better option. From my limited experience, and I do not profess to be an expert, if done right the counselee will often come to the right conclusions all on his or her own while the counselor simply listens. Apparently Job’s buddies were not in the same classes with me that day.

Well there you have it, my recent musing and reflection on the counsel of Job’s buddies. For some strange reason, the old nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” just came to mind. Perhaps that describes Job's buddies rather well; the blind leading the blind. Is there a lesson in all this for us today? I think there is. The lesson I’m beginning to see is that everything doesn’t always have to be some big theological debate. When we’re with people, often all they want is for someone to listen to them. It is not a question of them being right or wrong. Unless they specifically ask our opinion, it’s probably safe to say that they don’t want it. So what if they think a little differently that we do. Do you remember the old Beatles song, “Live and Let Die?” Is the church somehow stuck in those old lyrics? In our interest in being alive, do we inadvertently cause the death others in the church? Unlike the Beatles song, maybe we should make our mantra “Live and Let Live.” 

We often tend to be “Job’s buddies.” We often tend to like to argue a point to death. We often like to think that we’ve got the mind of God so figured out, that we are qualified and mandated to teach and correct each other, and often we do so with both barrels blazing. However, in doing so, too often we seem to forget a very important step.

Jesus said that all the Law and all the Prophets hang on LOVE (Matthew 22:40). In other words, if we cannot genuinely LOVE each other, then we can stuff our doctrines (Law and Prophets) because without LOVE, they don’t mean squat! Ouch! Maybe that’s why Paul said, “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22).

Will God rebuke us too for the same thing He rebuked the “Three Blind Mice” called Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar when He said to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7)? Do we also sometimes have the tendency to be “Blind Mice” ourselves the way we lead each other back and forth and around again in our often petty theological debates, claiming “to see” but all the while too blind to avoid the traps? Could it be time for a few less theological debates and a few more brotherly hugs and “holy kisses” (1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). Hmm, sometimes I wonder.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Will. This is wise and encouraging. We should never presume to know God, except through what God has shown us. Rather we should simply accept God's outragious and wonderful love and hope in God's goodness.

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  2. Will, Great post again.

    In their defence, I'm sure his three friends had the best of intentions. In all my dark times (and you know I've had a few) I've only had a couple of brothers who would sit quietly with me for an hour, never mind a week!

    I often chuckle at the arrogance of man to think he understands the mind of God! I find, that the older I get the less I know... and the more I like it that way.

    God Bless,

    Waldo

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