In the Thick of it – Job 7-8. RBT Notes, 5th January

Have you ever wished you could die? I’m not being flippant: there are times in people’s lives – many times for some – when all they want to do is close their eyes and never wake up. Too much pain, suffering and misery make life unbearable. Job sees nothing worth living for. Read vv.1-10 slowly, out loud is best. Feel its moving poetry, but feel the pain of the man who speaks this confession. He isn’t making art, he’s spilling his misery.

Job has to speak, his heart is overflowing. He speaks to God, howling out his anguish at his suffering. Job is doing what everyone does when suffering strikes: they confess that God is in charge of everything. And then they wrestle with the fact that this mighty God has found them out with such a bitter providence (vv.11-21). Suffering proves that noone, deep down, is an atheist: we know that He is there. Sometimes that very thought is torment.

When Job can go no lower, another friend arrives, Bildad. If you thought that Eliphaz was harsh, prepare for Bildad. Bildad strikes hard and fast: “Your words are a blustering wind” (8.1). He follows up with another blow, effectively saying that Job’s children died because of their sin (v.4). His counsel is then direct and crude: repent, and you’ll have even more than you had before (vv.5-7).

As Job is on the floor, gasping for breath, Bildad punches on, giving time-endorsed warnings about “all who forget God” (v.13, see vv.8-19). That’s right: Job, like they, will wither away and be forgotten, unless he repents. And if he does; well, happy days are ahead (vv.20-22).

Please. Deliver us from those who bring their wisdom. The world thinks that God works with a carrot and stick approach, smiling at the good, and rewarding it, and frowning at the bad, and punishing it. And many unbelievers assume that we can read God’s dealings – when they think He deigns to show up – from a reading of life’s events. The church knows better, or she should do. Life is messy, and uncertain. The only fixed points are the points of grace: the Gospel of grace tells us that an overwhelmingly holy God, whose justice should damn us all, embraces all who seek His grace in Christ. Christ was damned for us at the Cross. Now all that we have we have through grace. All that is true of God’s love for us is written in the Gospel promise, and not to be read out of the often haphazard events of life. Grace is sure, whereas the earthly blessings we long for are not.

By all means, seek to trace God’s hand in your life. That honours Him, and is the sign of a real, earnest faith. Be careful, though. Pride as well as despair will swallow those who obsess with the details of their lives. A better remedy – and the path to sanity for Job, his friends and for us – is that we seek the promises of grace. In Christ there is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – and that is a treasure to be tasted in heaven.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, living for You is so complicated, and often so tiring! I confess, Lord, that I sometimes want the oblivion of a cynical atheism, and I try to push You away. I don’t want the sharp pains and emotional ups and downs of living by faith. Gentle Father, find me in my weak faith and my fitful discipleship. Lord, be gentle with me, that I might be gentle and encouraging with all of Your children. Amen.

No Wise Words – Job 5-6. RBT Notes, 4th January

Comforting words? Or deadening ones? How many of us have felt a zeal to help a struggling believer, and we’ve dived in with our apparent wisdom? We’ve waved our sword of truth, only maybe later to discover that it was our truth, not the balanced, grace-infused truth of God’s Word. And far from building them up, we’ve actually cut that poor Christian down. These wounds last for a long, long time.

Eliphaz’s diagnosis for why Job is suffering is as severe as his proposed remedy. Job has had everything stripped from him, and Eliphaz has seen it all before – in the lives of fools (v.3)! Do you see his point, in 5.3-6? Yes, we all suffer, but the godless man (which is what ‘fool’ implies) will suffer most of all: suffering is his just reward. Job isn’t named, but Eliphaz is reasoning that this cap fits Job.

And the remedy? If Job wants his great life back, he most go to God and fall down before Him: He is the mighty Saviour, the sovereign Lord (vv.8-16). Good advice? Undoubtedly. But why is it given? Because, Eliphaz reasons, Job is being corrected and disciplined (v.17). No, Eliphaz doesn’t mention particular sins which Job is being disciplined for – maybe he’s waiting for Job to confess them – but he’s settled in his own view that Job is getting what he deserves. Confess them, and Eliphaz is sure that the good times will come rolling back (vv.17-26). And don’t he and his friends know it (v.27)?

So, Eliphaz weighs out his wisdom, and Job is left wondering at the weight of his own anguish (6.1). He feels wretched, pierced by God’s arrows (v.4), unable to eat (v.7), longing for death (vv.8-9), and fantasising that he might die with his integrity intact (v.10). His despair is deepened by his so-called friends and their advice (vv.14-21). He wants their wisdom, but defies them to name the sin which has brought this misery on him from God (vv.22-30).

We must be more careful, then. We live in a strange, complicated world, where horrible things happen for no apparent reason. Be slow to speak, even when you’re sure of your counsel. You know but the tiniest fraction of the Almighty, and can only guess at the best of times as to how He is fulfilling His purposes. Please, fear bringing discouragement to another believer because of your neat answers and ready advice. Listen, think, pray, and pray some more. In many words there is always sin, and even in the most carefully chosen ones, there is often little wisdom. Please, be careful.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I need to cover my mouth. How quick I am to think that I understand, and that I have something worthwhile to say when others suffer. Please forgive me for overbearing and arrogant words. Teach me humility, reverence and awe in Your presence. Teach me to make my words few, and my concern deep. Like Jesus. Amen.

 

All my sorrows – Job 3-4. RBT Notes, 3rd January

Suffering has its own adrenalin. When terrible things happen, most of us know a great energy surging through us, helping us to cope with the immediate trauma. Ever noticed how strong a bereaved person is at a funeral? And how upset many of those outside the immediate family circle are? God is good. He cares for the broken-hearted, and gives them strength to face loss. Energy given at a time of trauma is a gift of grace.

It’s the next six months which are the worst. Or the next six years, or twenty. With time grief sinks in, and works its way into every thought, feeling and memory. This is where we find Job in chapter 3. He opens his mouth, and his heart-grief pours out. Experience the power in his lament, a torrent of misery and anger. This is very raw grief. Job would rather die than live – and rather not have been born at all (vv.3-12). Death is the great leveller, where rich and poor lie side by side, the slave and the free sleeping (vv.13-19) – but even that peace eludes Job. The light of life which he is forced to endure now is only filled with misery and turmoil (vv.20-26).

This is a believer’s grief. Maybe you’ve seen it in others, or felt it yourself. Does it scare you, that grief brings feelings which are so intense, and which look so much at odds with the submission which faith is supposed to bring? Do you need to rush to bring comfort, or maybe rush to bring defense to God, when a Christian grieves like this? Or do you feel that your own feelings of angry desolation when you grieve are wrong?

One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, speaks up. We’ll hear his views many times in the following chapters. Here, the essence of his counsel is this: “look at yourself – and work out why you’re suffering”. He notes that Job has been godly and kind to others, and so there should be no reason why suffers under a just God, unless he is deep-down at fault (v.11). He even claims supernatural revelation for his beliefs (vv.12-21). Job is getting what he deserves. Surely he’s right, then?

Not so fast, Eliphaz. This friend’s views have been repeated through culture and history, and they still lurk in the church of Christ. Yes, the Bible does tells us to watch our steps, as God’s punishment for our sins does sometimes comes to us in this life. But far more of the Bible’s teaching warns us that only a fool draws a straight line between our actions and the consequences of them this side of God’s judgment. Many suffer through no apparent fault of their own. Then there are others who are thoroughly rotten, and they have the most charmed lives. Trying to work out what God is doing in our lives, and how our hearts stand before Him by measuring our joys or our sorrows, is a dangerous game.

Are you suffering at the moment? Are you tormented by things in your life you can’t change, and many that seem to be beyond justice? Look at another righteous Sufferer, One who suffered at the Cross. See the way He submitted to God’s good and perfect will, and drank that bitter cup. Know afresh that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ. Pour out your anguish to Him, knowing that His love is poured out without condition to you. Keep believing: Jesus did.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You did not ordain an easy life for Your Son, You’ve not ordained one for any of Your blood-bought children. Keep my heart both soft and honest before You. May my sufferings be my sanctification. Amen.

In every trial – Job 1-2. RBT Notes, 2nd January

Welcome to your worst nightmare.

We all know the book of Job, or at least, we all think we do. Believers fear it (this God could do the same to us), while unbelievers loathe it (this monstrous, game-playing God, if He exists, is to be rejected). Job is a book of scant comfort, we feel. All of us would gladly avoid even a tenth of Job’s trials, regardless of the size of the rewards which might follow, earthly or eternal.

Job’s story is about faith, and about the agonies that come to people who believe – seemingly despite what they believe. The book is so important, though, because it takes us to the heart of reality. It probes our hopes and fears about what this world really is: is there any one or thing out there beyond us; is there justice; why do awful things happen, sometimes, to the best people; and is belief in God a childish impulse, or a fool’s wager? This book throws up many questions – and brings with it not a few answers, many of them quite unexpected.

So, welcome, brother Job, godly, wealthy, respected and enjoying a beautiful life (vv.1-5). His life is the envy of prosperity preachers. Everything is going his way. The trouble is, that Satan is coming his way, too. Satan enters the divine court, fixated by Job’s happy life, and convinced that Job is only a man of faith because his faith is paying rich returns, a faith he will quickly abandon if his life goes wrong (vv.6-11), And so begins this most dreadful misery, as God permits Satan to test Job to within an inch of his life (v.12).

Out of a seemingly blue sky disaster strikes, and it comes again and again – theft, devastation, death: all that is dearest to him, children included, is wiped out (vv.13-19). Think about it. All that you have worked for, worried over, enjoy and treasure, all ripped out of your hands and destroyed forever. Your heart’s deepest joy, your children – all gone, too. This is suffering. And it comes with no explanations, and no instructions.

Job somehow holds his faith, and confesses it – God, in all of this anguish, is in charge. Life is a gift, the grave is as empty as the womb, and none of us deserves anything (v.21). Job refuses to curse God (v.22), though heaven, it seems, is about to curse him again. Satan reasons that Job is only hanging onto his faith because he has his health: once that goes, faith will go with it (2.3-6). Job then loses his health, and sits down, a picture of wretchedness. Adding to his misery is his wife, who makes her only appearance at this point, urging Job to stand up, shake his fist at heaven, and curse God (v.9). Job snaps at her (v.10), but he will not speak up at God. God is in heaven, and though His ways cannot be understood, He is the All-wise giver of all that He sees fit – good as well as trouble.

So welcome to this book, and these uncomfortable chapters of tears, arguments, and their wise and foolish advice in the face of suffering. Sit with Job and his friends (vv.11-13), and weigh their words. Learn from Job. Keep in your sights the Man who took from God all of the trouble you deserve for your sin, in order to bring you all the good you could never deserve nor earn. The Lord Jesus is the Lord of suffering, and if we listen to and imitate Him as we learn from this book, we have make so find comfort in.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I recoil and run from suffering. I am human. I treasure my comforts, and fear to lose even one of them. Teach me to consider Your servant Job, and to consider the One his suffering and faith point to. May I know more deeply the Man of Sorrows, and treasure Him as my lasting riches in an uncertain world. Amen.