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Righteous Suffering: When Comfort is Empty

 

Have you ever had someone close to you offer counsel or comfort in a difficult moment; but instead of bringing comfort, it brought more pain and confusion? Their intention was good, but their execution was not! Job finds himself in a similar situation after his lament. His friends come to counsel him, but their comfort is empty. What we see in this text is: Comfort absent of the gospel, is a comfort that is empty of any help or hope.

 

  1. Eliphaz’s “Religious” Counsel: 4:1 – 5:27

Eliphaz begins his response to Job and it’s obvious that he is coming at this tragedy with a religious, moralistic approach to God. His thinking is deeply steeped in the Retributive Principle (if you’re righteous you will be blessed, if you’re sinful you will be cursed). In summary, Eliphaz’s counsel could be summarized as such: Be consistent in your thinking; be honest about your lot; be realistic about life; be humble in your approach; and be submissive to God. We might be tempted to look at that and think what great counsel! If we were moralists, we could agree. But the issue is that moralistic and religious advice is utterly destructive when it becomes a substitute for the gospel. At its heart, that is what Eliphaz has done. He has substituted the redemptive nature of the gospel in this situation, and attempted to create a neat and clean system that makes sense of this.

So why is Eliphaz’s counsel empty? Here are three helpful reasons that should challenge us as we attempt to speak gospel truth into the lives of those who are suffering.

  1. He fails to see the extreme nature of Job’s suffering: Job’s situation is abnormal, maybe even unparalleled. I believe part of this is helpful for us to see that Job is a type of Christ. While Job was great, righteous and wealthy; Jesus is a greater one, who possess more than Job and will suffer far more even though He is more righteous than Job. Eliphaz has no category for this.
  2. He fails to see that suffering is not always correlated to discipline: This is a word many of us need to hear today. Suffering is not simply causal, but is accomplishing the sovereign purposes of God. Our suffering is not in vain! It’s not wasted or useless, but can have profound gospel impact!
  3. He fails to see that suffering has gospel purposes: For the non-believer, suffering today is a shadow of the deeper, comprehensive and eternal suffering that awaits those that do not repent. For the believer, suffering becomes a pathway to gospel witness for a world that doesn’t have a category to understand it!

 

  1. Job’s “Gospel” Response: 6:1 – 7:21

Job responds to his friends by pushing against Eliphaz’s counsel. He speaks of the deep pain that comes from suffering, and the deep pain that comes from the empty, religious counsel that Eliphaz offers. He goes so far as to suggest that he would choose that God crush him so that he doesn’t deny or betray God. I wonder if we have the same depth of conviction around betraying and denying God? Then Job responds to God in chapter 7. Here he speaks of the futility of his life and a desire to be left alone.

What is it in Job’s response that makes his response a gospel response?

  1. Honest wrestling with life leads to greater understanding: Throughout the book, it becomes clear that Job is willing to wrestle and grapple with the difficult and disorienting events in his life. Eliphaz is content to live within his comfortable system. In the end, Job will have a far deeper trust and confidence in God, where Eliphaz will be no further down the road. Our willingness to wrestle and grapple with the hard things of life is often in direct correlation to the depth of our understanding.
  2. A robotic approach undermines understanding and hope: While the gospel is clear, it’s not always clean. In fact, often gospel living is messy, gritty and jumbled. But we have to be willing to live in that messy and unknown space.
  3. Our words matter: Gospel saturated counsel would have been a healing balm for Job. It wouldn’t have solved everything, and it wouldn’t have eliminated the pain, but it would have begun to move Job down the road toward healing. Instead, he received dead, lifeless, religious counsel that brought more confusion and frustration. We must remember that our words matter and have the potential to be incredibly helpful or incredibly harmful.

 

As we closed, we did so by specifically asking God to help us in a few ways. I’ve included those below for us to reflect and meditate on.

– God help me to be willing to wrestle through difficulties of life

– God help me to fight against a robotic, systematic approach to suffering & tragedy

– God help me to take serious the words that I utter and the significance of their impact

 

 

 

 

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