SOAP Journal – 18 January 2019 (Job 15)

Are the consolations of God too small for you,
Even the word [spoken] gently with you?

Job 15:11

Job went on a bit of a tear in chapters 12-14, all of it boiling down to a few key themes: (1) Job has done nothing to deserve what is happening to him, (2) his friends are terrible comforters, (3) he wants to talk with God and plead his case, and (4) his suffering is such that he wishes he were dead. These are the themes to which Job returns over and over in this book. But Eliphaz responds in chapter 15. Eliphaz asks if a wise man should speak empty words (he should not) or if the consolations of God are insufficient for Job (they are quite sufficient, but the friends are not offering them) and offers his own observations on what happens in the world.

Eliphaz seems to be spiraling out further from reality. He perceives what the friends are saying as the consolations of God. The major problem with that is that God is, according to Corinthians, the Father of Mercies and God of all Comfort who comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we may, in turn, comfort others with that same comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). At the end of Job’s suffering, God does speak and comfort Job and Job is able to turn around and bless others in that time and place. But Job’s friends are not offering him comfort, they are offering platitudes and clichés.

Eliphaz goes further and states that God puts no trust in His holy ones. This notion presupposes that God would need to extend trust. Trust is a byproduct of uncertainty. I do not know what a person will do, but I trust that they will behave according to a set pattern that I have observed. I do not know that the chair I sat in this morning is still intact, but I trust that it is. God has no need of trust. He already knows. He knows when I am going to obey or disobey, He knows when I will make Him proud and when I will disappoint Him. He knows everything. Knowing everything obviates the possibility of trust. So Eliphaz, far from being innocent of speaking worthless words, is doing so himself.

I do not want to revisit Eliphaz’s observations, but it is sufficient to note that he has, apparently, only ever seen the just rewarded and the wicked suffering. He has had, to my mind, a very sheltered life. I have seen the wicked prospering in their ways (just look at government and big business) and have seen the just and good trodden down. David will later write that he never saw the righteous forsaken or the son of the righteous begging for bread, and I can wholeheartedly agree with David’s observation. But Eliphaz has been insulated from reality or has seen it through a lens that saw wicked men as having done nothing wrong. After all, no one is the villain in their own story.

This boils down to me keeping silent when dealing with a person who is suffering. I do not always have the words of comfort. If I do, I should give them. I have endured some things and can state, without a single doubt, that God is able to see us through. In those instances, the comfort I can offer is that God is there and that He will provide comfort and strength and walk with us in those dark places and be Himself the light that we need to see our way through. Many years ago, my youngest sister died and I can state, with complete confidence, that God can get us through the departure of a sibling.

Father, thank You for the times You have walked with me and comforted me. Please show me when and where I might offer that same comfort to others.

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SOAP Journal – 16 January 2019 (Job 11)

Shall a multitude of words go unanswered,
And a talkative man be acquitted?

Job 11:2

Job spoke in chapters 9-10, asking a few worthwhile questions — like How can a man be right with God? (Job 9:2) — while mostly bemoaning his sad state. In chapter 11, Zophar the Naamathite chimes in. He, like the other friends, mixes right statements and good questions with bad doctrine.

In the category of good questions, Zophar asks Can you discover the depths of God? / Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? (v. 7) and If He passes by or shuts up, / Or calls an assembly, who can restrain Him? (v. 10). The answer to the first two is, “No.” God has no limit to His depth that I might fathom Him and His power and authority reach to the smallest elements of creation. That said, there is also a “Yes.” hiding in those questions when understood differently. Yes, I can discover the depths of God with regard to His counsel. He delights to reveal the depths of His wisdom and knowledge to those who love Him and earnestly seek Him. Yes, I can discover the limits of God. He will only endure sin for a time and that limit can be found out (not that it is the sort of discovery one really wants to make, as Sodom and Gomorrah learned). He will not step outside the bounds of His Law and His character. Once I have learned that God is merciful and just, I know that He will only ever be merciful and just. He does not change. He has no need. Perfection cannot be improved upon.

Zophar also makes a solid statement in verse 11. Zophar notes that God does not need to discover falsehood or iniquity in people. God is aware of everything without effort. This statement speaks of God’s omniscience.

Zophar, zo-good (it was too good a pun to pass up).

But that is where Zophar’s rightness ends. He opens his statements with a question: Shall a multitude of words go unanswered, / And a talkative man be acquitted? The answer to the first part is sometimes “Yes.” Yes, it is sometimes best not to answer a multitude of words. Ecclesiastes 10:14 says that the fool multiplies words. And Job, in his suffering, is descending into folly. It is best not to answer him. Best to let him vent his spleen and let him know that he has been heard and that his suffering has been marked. The friends did well when they sat beside Job in silence. They would have done better if they had kept silent.

Despite the other things that Zophar gets wrong — he, like the others, seems to think that right living necessarily brings material blessing and lack of suffering in the present — it is this realization that silence is sometimes the best action that sticks with me.

I have felt recently as though hemmed in by words. Advertisements and talk on the radio and this multiplying throng of words that says much and means next to nothing; people paying lip service to ideas and behaving in a manner that reveals they only regurgitate the words, but have never been impacted by them. And, what is worse, I find myself wondering if I am doing the same thing. Am I using many words to say next to nothing? Am I saying things and living in a manner inconsistent with what I say?

God, please shut my mouth when I multiply words without cause; please silence my words when my actions do not match them.

SOAP Journal – 14 January 2019 (Job 8)

Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?

Job 8:3

In chapter 8, Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite chimes in. Bildad’s information is a blend of correct and incorrect. Bildad does ask some very good questions in spite of his poor quality information.

The first thing Bildad does is ask a few questions. His first question is how long Job is going to keep talking. Job already said that his words come from a place of suffering and pain and should be listened to, if at all, as the words of someone not entirely himself. So this question from Bildad is not the most penetrating or insightful.

But he follows up with a pair of excellent questions that boil down to this: Is God NOT just and righteous? The implications are powerful. If God IS righteous and just, then I should accept whatever comes from Him as something that is right and just, because I can count on Him to be consistent. If God IS NOT righteous and just, then I cannot count on Him to be consistent in His dealings and looking to Him for help is a crap shoot.

The problem with Bildad is that he keeps going from there and draws out entirely the wrong implication. Bildad figures that if God is just then He will ALWAYS punish the guilty where everyone can see it and will ALWAYS reward those who are upright in the here and now. The truth is quite different.

Job’s other friend, Eliphaz, noted that mankind is born for trouble; that suffering is our lot in life. Bildad says outright that God would make Job’s prior wealth seem insignificant by comparison if Job would just seek compassion from God (v. 7). How can these disparate ideas — the notion of human suffering being normal and the idea of God’s material blessing on and comfort of the righteous and just — be reconciled? They cannot. Not without some Olympic-level mental gymnastics.

Then Bildad, after telling Job that his (Job’s) kids must have died because of some sin they had committed (sometimes we really should just shut our mouths), goes on to tell Job that he should learn from previous generations. There is great wisdom in this piece of instruction. One of the things that sets humanity apart from every other living thing is our ability to learn from our predecessors. Not just our immediate predecessors like parents and grandparents, but from innumerable generations before that — as far back as we have put words to media of some sort. I can, by reading, converse with the minds of C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I can hear the jokes of Samuel Clemens and the witty banter between Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. I can trace the formation of an idea over centuries from its very beginnings to where it is today.  And all because prior generations wrote their ideas down I am able to read. Job may have lived in a time when the histories were oral, but there has been research done showing that the oral histories are just as faithfully passed down as the written ones and, in some ways, may have been more faithfully passed down, because everyone can memorize things while not everyone has historically been taught to read. Which is only to say that there was likely a wealth of knowledge from previous generations at Job’s mental fingertips.

From that lofty summit, Bildad descends, yet again, into his erroneous notion that God will ALWAYS reward the just and righteous in the here and now with material comforts. And this is demonstrably untrue. There are and have been those who lived just and righteous lives — as much as any person can — and received little to no material comfort. Their souls were at peace and their hearts untroubled, but they seldom possessed much wealth.

The first takeaway of this passage is the justice and righteousness of God. While Bildad gets the results of God’s justice and righteousness wrong, he is correct to ascribe them to God. God is always just and always righteous and He cannot be otherwise. This affords me a level of stability. God has been, is, and will be consistent. And I can rely on Him to do what is just and right. And, since His stated goal is to make me like Him in character, it stands to reason that He wants to make me righteous and just and consistent.

The second takeaway is that I can learn from those who have come before me and I should. The Bible is the Word of God, so I am well served to study this book. I can also seek out the great minds of the faith and see what they have said and join the conversation that has been going on for almost two millennia. And I can also find out where people have gone wrong. The Bible, in my years of reading it, never so much as implies that a Christian should hate the Jews. In point of fact, the writers of the New Testament comment on how Christians are grafted into the promises made to Abraham. We gentile believers are to see ourselves as something of an add-on and to love those who have preserved the promises of God for so long. Any other reading misses the mark. And there have been other readings. These wrong readings serve as warnings to me as I engage in the ancient conversation. We (people in general, but I am thinking here specifically of believers) often get things wrong and it is to our benefit that we see our error, make amends where we can, and correct our course.

Lord God, thank You that Your Word abides. Thank You for preserving Your Word so that I might sit and converse with You; that I might listen to You speak and engage with You. Through Isaiah, You invite me to reason together with You that I might correct my thoughts and straighten out my mind and learn to make my way right before You. Please teach me, that I might live as You want me to live, and please conform me to Your character that I might be just and righteous and reliable.

SOAP Journal – 11 January 2019 (Job 6-7)

For the despairing man [there should be] kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

Job 6:14

In the previous two chapters, Eliphaz argued that the innocent and upright are not destroyed and do not suffer in the same way as the guilty. The implication is that Job has done something wrong and is being punished by God for that wrongdoing.

Job’s response begins in a good place. Job starts his reply rebuking Eliphaz for offering sermonizing to a suffering man. Job states that what should have been offered is kindness.  He reminds his friends that he did not ask them for anything (vv 6:22-23), but sat in silence for a week and spoke, when he finally spoke, out of his pain (v 6:26).

But Job’s response takes a turn for the worse when he seems to accept what Eliphaz said as being true. He turns from rebuking his friend — who deserved the rebuke — to rebuking God (vv 7:11-21). Were God’s character in line with what Eliphaz said, then Job might be correct in asking God what wrong he (Job) had done. Even in the midst of Job’s poorly-thought-out words, there is an interesting question: What is man that You magnify him, / And that You are concerned about him, / That You examine him every morning / And try him every moment? (vv 7:17-18). Put another way: Why does God care about humanity?

This exchange between Eliphaz and Job brings out two schools of thought that are still around.

Eliphaz highlights the notion that God rewards righteousness and goodness with wealth and health and physical blessing and comfort in the here and now. What we often call the “Health and Wealth Gospel.” This, as already noted, is manifestly not true. God’s children suffer, even when they are doing well in God’s sight. Peter wrote that it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong (1 Peter 3:17). Jesus promised His disciples that they would have difficulties in this world.

Job alludes to the idea that God just created everything and set the world in motion, then sat back and let it all do its thing. Some of America’s founders held to this view. But this view neglects what Jesus said about God being concerned about sparrows and flowers in the fields. God is interested in everything that happens in His creation. While Job did not have Jesus’ words written down in front of him, the founders did and their error is obvious enough.

But what does this rambling mess of observations have to do with how I conduct myself?

First, I should remember that those who are suffering are not interested in a sermon or even really in hearing where their thought process might be wrong. Unless the error is going to impact that person’s salvation, I should let their words belong to the wind (Job 6:26). What people need, when they are suffering, is mercy and kindness and another person to sit with them and listen. Or so Job’s example would have me believe.

Second, I should let my words be for God when I am suffering. People may, as Eliphaz does, not understand or not respond in kindness. God always does both.

Third, I need to mindful — both in my suffering and in the suffering of others — that God cares deeply about His creation and is intimately involved in the details of our lives. So much so that somewhere in the heart and mind of God is the menu of what each and every sparrow is going to eat today and the exact color palette of every petal on every wildflower in every part of the world. Also in the heart and mind of God is everything that will ever happen in my life. His heart rejoices in the good He is able to send my way and aches with mine in the times of suffering that are necessary both because of my own choices and in order to conform me to the image of Christ.

Father, thank You that You care. Both Job and the psalmist ask what makes humanity so special and the answer is that You care about us. Absent Your love for us, we are no better off than any other created thing. Without Your regard and involvement in our lives, we would certainly all meander our selfish ways to Hell. But You care. You love us. You intervene. Thank You for all of that.

SOAP Journal – 10 January 2019 (Job 4-5)

Remember now, who [ever] perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?

Job 4:7

For man is born for trouble,
As sparks fly upward.

Job 5:7

Job broke his silence, giving voice to his suffering, and one of his friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, thinks that it is time to have a theological debate. Job will call him on the folly of this in the following chapters. But his arguments remain. And his arguments boil down to these ideas: (1) the innocent do not suffer the same way as the guilty and (2) man’s lot in life is to suffer in some form.

First, Eliphaz asserts that the innocent do not perish and the upright are not destroyed. But these statements are manifestly untrue. The innocent die just as frequently as the guilty. In fact, the death statistics are still 1:1. If a person is born, then that person will die. And the upright are often destroyed — it happens in the business world with sad regularity. These statements; this notion of the persistence and guaranteed blessing of the innocent and upright is demonstrably false. Eliphaz is nearer the mark with his second argument.

It is the second argument that prompts Eliphaz to rebuke Job for complaining about his suffering when Job’s own words have comforted others in their suffering (vv 3-5). If suffering is common to all people, then we should all expect some measure of suffering in our lives. If we are born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward — which is to say, it is just natural — then why should we complain when we suffer? Job answers this in the following chapters and his response boils down to the statement that even the animals make noise when they suffer. Essentially, suffering and some type of noise naturally accompany one another. So, if suffering is just natural and making noise because of suffering is natural, then we should expect them both. Pretty straightforward. And also demonstrably true. Everyone suffers in some measure. We may disagree about the portions and whether or not everyone gets what they deserve, but everyone is served a helping of heartache in their lives.

I should expect suffering in my life. Suffering is natural. All living things experience it. Whether it be physical pain or emotional pain or distress of spirit, I should accept that pain and suffering are normal and natural and to be expected. As Jim Butcher aptly put it,  “Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it. […] Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.” Suffering will happen to everyone. How I respond to it is up to me.

Father, thank You for this reminder that suffering is no respecter of persons. We all suffer and that is just the way of things. Thank You that I can count on You to stay with me in my times of suffering. Thank You that Your words spoken into my suffering will be hope and encouragement. Please keep my ears open for Your voice and my eyes sharp to see Your work when next I endure suffering. I know that it will come and I know that You will still be with me when it does.

SOAP Journal – 09 January 2019 (Job 3)

“I am not at ease, nor am I quiet,
And I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.”

Job 3:26

When Job breaks his silence after not speaking for a week, his first words are to curse the day he was born. It is an easy sentiment to empathize with. Job is suffering severely — his children are gone, his wealth is gone, and his body is in pain. Seeing how bad his situation is, Job thinks it would be better if he had never been born. In this moment, Job has his eyes turned away from God.

If I am honest with myself, there are times when I have thought the same thing as Job; when I have felt that things would have been better if I had never been born. But that kind of thinking is short-sighted and focused solely on me. The film It’s a Wonderful Life takes this idea of a person thinking that the world would be better off if they had never been born and, in its way, examines the ramifications of such a thought being executed against. What if God decided to make it as though someone never had been born? How would the world be different for the lack of that one person? And the film does one thing very well: it shows how one person’s life touches many others.

Which leaves me with the realization that there are two main problems with Job’s thought process. First, he is focused on himself and his suffering. It is totally understandable and relatable, but his focus needs to be on God. Second, Job’s self-focus makes him forget that one life touches others. He has definitely impacted the lives of his wife and children, very likely impacted his friends (definitely them before the book closes), and probably touched the lives of people of whom he is not aware. One note on this before I continue on to apply this: Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to enter into Heaven (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25). Job’s righteous life was, itself, a miracle that spoke to others. Job was living a life that, per Jesus, is humanly impossible (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). God’s power was being shone through Job, just by Job walking with God.

Which brings me to application. And I can hear Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies saying, “Focus … concentrate.” I need to keep my focus where it belongs: on God. When my focus is right, other things will fall in line.

God, thank You that Job’s very life was a testimony to Your power and that my life and the lives of any of Your children can also testify to Your greatness. Please forgive me for focusing on myself and the challenges in front of me. My focus should not be on the challenge in front of me, but on You living inside me and walking with me through every circumstance — fire or flood or fields of green. Please captivate my mind’s eye and empower me to be so focused on You that my difficulties are brought into their proper perspective.

SOAP Journal – 08 January 2019 (Job 2)

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:9-10

The cycle of silliness begins with Job’s wife. The one who ought to know him better than anyone else; the one who shares his sufferings in a way that no one else can should know how speak comfort to him or, at least, to commiserate with him. But she does not. Rather than sitting with him in silence, as his three friends do when they first arrive, or empathizing with his pain — which is also her own pain, in many ways — she looks at her husband suffering in silence and tells him to just curse God and die. Worst. Advice. Ever.

In fairness to her, she is hurting. Her children have all died and the wealth that she had seen her husband work to amass was gone. To top it all off, she sees her husband in physical pain. Everything that they had worked to build as a couple as gone. Everything except their marriage. I wonder if they fell into the trap of marrying, then focusing on building everything except their marriage. I wonder if they are one of those couples I often hear about who struggles to find things in common when the children are gone.

Then I see Job’s response to her. Even in his suffering, he does not look to cause her injury. I know that I am wont to lash out at others who say such foolish things when I am hurting. Curse God? God is the only One not talking nonsense. Die? While it might seem like a reprieve from the suffering, but suffering and pain are temporary states and joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). The permanent state of God’s children is joy and peace. And Job seems to know this. David later writes that he would have lost hope if he had not believed that he would see the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). It seems that Job is also clinging to the hope of seeing God’s goodness in the land of the living. Job tells his wife that her words are foolish. This is not an indictment against her or an impugning of her character, but a judgment of her words. She is talking nonsense. He goes on to remind her that the good things they had — children, health, wealth — all came from God. Should they take good from God’s hand and not also accept suffering?

Paul writes later that the sufferings and accompanying comfort of Christ are ours (1 Corinthians 1:5) and Peter encourages believers that the sufferings of Christ come with the glory of Christ (1 Peter 4:3; 5:1). Suffering is part and parcel of the human experience and perhaps more so for those who wish to follow Christ. Jesus did, after all, tell us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23).

Since I know that life will include times of suffering and also know that there will be people — maybe even those nearest and dearest to me — who will talk nonsense in those times of suffering, let me seek to focus on God and accepting everything as coming from His hand. My suffering is not necessarily what He would prefer for me (I am quite certain that He would conform me to the image of Christ without suffering if such a thing were possible), but nothing happens to me without His clearance. And let me remember that what people say is not necessarily the same as who they are — they might be suffering alongside me and speaking from their own pain. Job did not condemn his wife as a foolish woman, but her words as foolish words. He spoke truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Father, I confess that I become distracted when I suffer. I see the pain and the difficulty and lose sight of You and Who You are. I lose sight of Your expressed purpose: to conform me to the image of Your Son. As the saying goes, only One Son have You without sin, but none without sorrow. Suffering will come. Please change me in the times of suffering that I might endure in such a way as to be found faithful and to bring glory and honor to Your Name.