Job 5:17-18 and What Not to Say to Someone Suffering

Satan cast out of heaven.

Satan cast out of heaven.

I know Job’s friends mean well; they would not have come to visit if they did not care. Nevertheless, what they say could be a case study in what not to say to someone who is suffering. Take these two verses for example:

Look, happy is the person whom God corrects; so don’t reject the Almighty’s instruction. He injures, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal.

Job has lost all of his wealth. His children are all dead. He has open sores that fester and are infected with parasites. He is not happy! Not only does this statement not take into account what Job, the one suffering here, actually feels, it is not completely truthful, either.

Statements like this have a lot of truthiness to them–they sound like they are true but are not necessarily true. The major issue in Job that will be visited over and over again is the idea that God does everything in this world, good or bad. If someone is prosperous it is from God. If someone is destitute it is from God. This kind of thinking ultimately makes God the source of evil in the world since God is the only one who is acting in this situation.

What is worse is when people try to defend this position and say something ridiculous to defend it. One of Job’s friends, speaking specifically of Job’s children’s deaths, stated, “If your children sinned against him [God], then he delivered them into the power of their rebellion” (8:4). So taking this logic to its ultimate conclusion, six million Jews sinned against God and he destroyed them in the Holocaust during World War II. People in the Midwest sinned against God so he sent tornadoes to destroy them. The workers in the Twin Towers and the travelers on the airplanes sinned against God so he destroyed them. If we make the same critical assumption Job and his friends did–that God is the only one responsible for action in the world–then God becomes the author of evil.

We have an enemy, an adversary, who is a deceiver and a liar. God is not the only one at work in the world. The devil is also at work and many times the evil is from him. There will be no order or reason behind that evil because it is fueled by hate and rage, and neither of those make any logical sense. If Job and his friends knew this, the book would have been much shorter than it is because they would not have had to try and explain why God is either just or unjust in the situation in which Job finds himself.

Sometimes bad things happen and there is no identifiable reason for it. Sometimes horrendous evil occurs and no one can explain why. It is not because God did it. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence between the circumstances of our lives and our faithfulness before God. If we are faithful, sometimes we still suffer. If we are disobedient, sometimes we prosper. This is because the devil is also at work in this world.

Trying to ease the suffering of someone by saying God is teaching them a lesson is not only insensitive to the suffering happening, it may just be a lie, too.


Deuteronomy 9:4-5 and The Reason for Prosperity

PD-Gold-Bars-and-Coins17-300x199What is the reason for prosperity?  There are many preachers that claim that if you are faithful to God, God will be faithful to you and prosper you here and now.  There are many people who believe these preachers.  There are some that believe a version of this that may not be spelled out as fully, but they understand that they have received blessings by God in their lives (job, family, home, etc.) because they have been obedient and faithful to God.

Much of the Old Testament tends to support this understanding of how the world works.  Yet two passages in Deuteronomy flatly contradict this understanding.  They are 8:17-18 and 9:4-5

 Don’t think to yourself, My own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me.  Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors—and that’s how things stand right now.

Once the Lord your God has driven them [the Canaanite nations] out before you, don’t think to yourself, It’s because I’m righteous that the Lord brought me in to possess this land. It is instead because of these nations’ wickedness that the Lord is removing them before you.   You aren’t entering and taking possession of their land because you are righteous or because your heart is especially virtuous; rather, it is because these nations are wicked—that’s why the Lord your God is removing them before you, and because he wishes to establish the promise he made to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

It is not because Israel was particularly faithful that God blessed them.  On the contrary, Deuteronomy gives a detailed list of every time Israel was not faithful and how gracious God has been that he did not wipe them off the face of the earth.  Instead, the message is that God is going to prosper them for a reason, which will fulfill part of the purposes of God.

It is actually very humbling to think that the entire reason God gave the Promised Land to Israel was not because of their faithfulness, but because he used them to judge the unrighteousness of the nations that were there.  In this respect, Israel is no different than Assyria and Babylon later in the biblical narrative, since God will use those nations to judge unrighteous and unfaithful Israel.

It is also very humbling to apply this concept to our lives.  If we are blessed, it may not be because of anything we ourselves did.  It may be for some reason completely unrelated to us at all.  The question then is not, “What did I do to deserve all that I have?” but rather, “How can I be faithful with what God has entrusted me, for whatever reason he has done it?”