I am always amazed at what comes out when I am reading the Bible one on one with people.
Recently I was continuing our journey through the book of Job with my bible reading partner and we came to chapter 4. Here it is to save you having to look it up: here.
It is as you may have noticed, the first speech in the book of Job from one of Job’s friends. Now the book of Job is not merely a book about a guy that suffers. It is a book about a guy who essentially becomes a poker chip in a cosmic bet between God and Satan. A bet, instigated by God no less. It cannot be read any other way. The first two chapters make it clear that God stakes the future of the universe (because if God loses the bet he ceases to be God and if he ceases to be God then how does he uphold all creation?) upon how one man responds to suffering.
Let summarise and say again: God bets everything, even his own identity on how one man responds to suffering. (remind you of anyone in the New Testament?)
Anyway, I love how we get the first two and last chapters of Job included because if you remove them, things read really differently when you’re reading the speeches of his friends. Already sounding familiar, they sound far more…..correct. We only know that they’re wrong because of the first two and last chapter.
This really matters when we get to chapter 4 because we ask the question: what is the first argument/response presented in the presence of suffering? Well, let’s have a look:
Job 4: 1-6 Then Eliphaz from Teman spoke up: “Would you mind if I said something to you? Under the circumstances it’s hard to keep quiet. You yourself have done this plenty of times, spoken words that clarify, encouraged those who were about to quit. Your words have put stumbling people on their feet, put fresh hope in people about to collapse. But now you’re the one in trouble—you’re hurting! You’ve been hit hard and you’re reeling from the blow. But shouldn’t your devout life give you confidence now? Shouldn’t your exemplary life give you hope? 7-11 “Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap? Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end? It’s my observation that those who plow evil and sow trouble reap evil and trouble.One breath from God and they fall apart, one blast of his anger and there’s nothing left of them. The mighty lion, king of the beasts, roars mightily, but when he’s toothless he’s useless—No teeth, no prey—and the cubs wander off to fend for themselves. (Emphasis mine.)
At least he’s nice enough to give him a few compliments first. But that only makes the sting even more poisonous when it inevitably comes. The sting, the platform of the first response to suffering is moral.
I think the significance of this cannot be understated. In the face of suffering, the first response speaks from a moral platform. You see, it sounds so righteous, so correct until we find out at the end that he and his mates are essentially liars, fakes, even false theologians. (Job 42:8) In spite of how righteous they sound. But the problem with the response is not merely that it is first and foremost from a moral platform. Here’s the bigger problem:
Job 4:12-21 “A word came to me in secret— a mere whisper of a word, but I heard it clearly. It came in a scary dream one night, after I had fallen into a deep, deep sleep Dread stared me in the face, and Terror. I was scared to death—I shook from head to foot. A spirit glided right in front of me—the hair on my head stood on end. I couldn’t tell what it was that appeared there— a blur . . . and then I heard a muffled voice:17 21 “‘How can mere mortals be more righteous than God? How can humans be purer than their Creator?…..and on he goes.
Folks what we’ve got here is a claim to a supernatural experience, re-pleat with: “this came to me in secret.” Translation: ‘this is special knowledge that God only shares with me, but since I’m such a top bloke I’ll do you a favour and let you in on it.’
It’s a moral platform with the garnish of spiritual experience. Please let that sink in: moral platform; spiritual garnish.
The order matters.
But boy does it sound righteous.
nonetheless, we know from the first two chapters that Eliphaz must be lying through his teeth, or he been spiritually deceived. If he really had an experience of God, he’d know what we the reader knows. But he hasn’t he just sounds like he has. Just like any other false teacher.
The crucial question is, how do smoke Eliphaz out if you didn’t have the ‘bookends’ of Job’s story? It is an important question because that’s exactly the situation that we face. There’s a heap of teaching out there and a million responses to a million different situations that claim to be Godly, that claim to be Christian and they may not be.
Again; the order matters. There’s an abyss of difference between a moral platform….or a tradition platform…or a cultural platform…or a self-help platform…or a prosperity platform….with garnish of the spiritual and a spiritual platform garnished with practical application.
If the spiritual stuff is ‘the icing on the cake’…run. The spiritual has to be the cake. Yes God can heal, yes God can solve problems, yes God understands, yes God provides and yes he does a million other things but only because he is GOD first.
Don’t settle for an experience of God as the garnish of something else.
One thought on “The order matters.”
This came just in the right timing. Thanks for sharing, Peter! I read this only last year, but with a different focus. This insight was very encouraging:)
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