Do you care for aging parents, grandparents, or siblings? One of the things I appreciate about God’s providence for me, far away from my family (who are all healthier than I am, at this time), is being surrounded by people who are older than me and who need TLC. Over the last year, my understanding and appreciation of physical weakness has increased dramatically through my two surgeries. Now I realize, in a new way, how physical pain or weakness dramatically changes our perspective and our ability to see beyond it, which is essential for the best quality of life. Many seniors withdraw because it is just too complicated and beyond their ability to reach out to others; therefore, they need others to reach out to them. If you had asked me about how to connect with the elderly who are chronically affected by illness or pain several years ago, I might have had some advice, but it would not be informed opinion based on understanding. Job’s friends advised Job about God based on their limited knowledge of suffering and pain. Their advice wasn’t all wrong; it just wasn’t well-informed. Perhaps they had never been confronted by this situation before, where someone was suffering mysteriously, with a dramatic onset, affecting his entire life and family, by an unknown cause. There were no natural catastrophes, no tornados or earthquakes; there was no plague. Only Job’s household and Job were affected. So they naturally assumed that Job had done something to deserve God’s dramatic discipline—something you and I probably never consider. Kudos to them for connecting the sudden change in Job’s life to something about God. But perhaps they should have focused more on God’s sovereign right to do what he chooses instead of insisting on a formula of confession + repentance = blessing. In the end, the Lord argues his sovereign case as the Creator and Ruler (Job 38-41). That’s what brings Job to repentance of his questioning of God, and leads to blessing and peace.
Eliphaz wasn’t wrong about the way the Lord disciplines us when he preached to Job at the beginning of his speech. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the lash of the tongue, and shall not fear destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth. For you shall be in league with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.” (Job 5:17-23) Eliphaz wasn’t wrong—God does reprove those he loves, and after the reproof and repentance comes peace, rather than anxiety in all aspects of life. On a more personal level, Eliphaz’s implication that Job was suffering because of some sin on his part is entirely off-base. He isn’t wrong that Job needed reproof—we all do because every aspect of our being is corrupted by sin and needs to be transformed by the gospel. But Eliphaz is wrong that Job is suffering because he hasn’t repented. And isn’t it ironic that Eliphaz says Job will be delivered from the lash of the tongue—like his?
Today I have a few takeaways from Job 5:17-23, in the context of Job’s suffering and need for comfort. One is that we are all in need of comfort for something and our friends are the likely ones to share God’s comfort with us, but with limited understanding of our situations. I don’t share my inner-most struggles with very many people, and some, not at all. So how can I expect others to empathize? So, when my friends or family try to help me, I should be gracious to accept their best comfort, rather than complain about their limitations, no matter how much pain I am in at the time.
Secondly, my peace doesn’t come without some submission and humility on my part, in light of God’s authoritative, good sovereignty in all matters. The rulership, control, and power of God are not overbearing to those who are in Christ. Instead, we rejoice and delight to know that the best One to rule over the world is, in fact, on the throne, watchful, purposeful, and actively ordaining that which will yield salvation for the most people. Peace with God comes with my realization that he who rules has already lovingly and mercifully accepted me in Christ, for all eternity. Of course, the more I rest in Christ’s love and acceptance of me, the more peace I will have with others, and the less I will try to comfort myself with the things of this world (through food, entertainment, shopping, drugs, alcohol, etc.). Peace in Christ—being bought by him, to live for him—rescues me from my dread, evil, death, war, the lash of the tongue, destruction, and famine (or the temptations of abundance, in our case, here in America and the developed world). Circumstances and situations lose their power to overcome my security and don’t shake me up.
Unfortunately, we, like Job are completely undone when our closest friends think the worst of us. Job wanted to die because of the useless comfort from his friends, and the oppressiveness of his circumstances. “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you.” (Job 16:2-5) Surely Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were doing their best in an impossible situation—or were they trying to prove their wisdom, feeling superior because they weren’t suffering? I tend toward the first. And who can blame Job for his cries to be vindicated or die when he has no basis for understanding what is happening to him? Well, Job’s friends blame him, don’t they? God never calls Job to the mat for his pain or speaking his mind; the Lord only insists that he recognize God’s superiority over him and not be quite so sure of his innocence based on his self-righteousness. I admire Job’s honesty as he speaks his pain to the Lord, wholly overcome by his physical, emotional, and mental suffering, as if the Lord shot him with poisoned arrows, for which there is no antidote. (Job 6:4)
Here is one of three helps in our suffering: speak honestly to the God who loves you, who knows your mind and heart, and who wants you to turn to him with your pain. I imagine that this was Job’s main source of relief, to get through his long days of confusion and disappointment. Others can’t comfort us with understanding, because they don’t know anything more than we do about our pain—they “why” of our suffering. However, having a Savior who endured even more than we have, who is with us as we struggle to get through one day at a time will strengthen our souls and therefore, our resolve to endure. Job asked that God would remove his rod from him; and Christ has done so—he has taken the rod of God’s wrath on our behalf if we are his. (Job 9:34; 21:9) We have his comfort and the Holy Spirit’s comfort which may have been given to Job for a time. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26)
Having Christ is our greatest help and peace in our suffering. “He dwells by faith in Christ, who is his peace, his peace maker, and peace giver; and in whom he has peace amidst all the tribulation he meets with in the world; the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps and guards him in Christ, as in a garrison, safe and secure; and he enjoys much peace, as the fruit of the Spirit…” * What do believers need when they are at the end of themselves? We need Christ, who is not only the one who died for us but also the one who lives to receive us into his presence, and in the meantime, intercedes for us with our heavenly Father, and gives us the Holy Spirit who works in us to keep us close to Christ. For our part, when we can do nothing else, we yield. We submit to the power and work of God trusting in him who wants us under his wing. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalms 63:5-8)
Speaking our pain to the Lord and putting our trust in Christ, submitting to his perfect authority and wise, sovereign rulership results in peace and thanksgiving. Here is a third help—thanksgiving for God’s sovereignty leads us to redirect our thoughts with renewed faith in God. Soul peace is a result of God’s work in us, not a result of our work in ourselves. Look to James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
* Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Job 5:24, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/job-5.htmlMay 2, 2019