Job 3:1-10; 4:1-9; 7:11-21
(watch here: https://youtu.be/m1x2rf7FBkE)
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said:
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man-child is conceived.”
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
or light shine on it.
Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
Let clouds settle upon it;
let the blackness of the day terrify it.
That night—let thick darkness seize it!
let it not rejoice among the days of the year;
let it not come into the number of the months.
Yes, let that night be barren;
let no joyful cry be heard in it.
Let those curse it who curse the Sea,
those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan.
Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none;
may it not see the eyelids of the morning—
because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb,
and hide trouble from my eyes.’
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
‘If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?
But who can keep from speaking?
See, you have instructed many;
you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have supported those who were stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
and sow trouble reap the same.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.
The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion,
and the teeth of the young lions are broken.’
[Job said,] ‘Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the Sea, or the Dragon,
that you set a guard over me?
When I say, “My bed will comfort me,
my couch will ease my complaint”,
then you scare me with dreams
and terrify me with visions,
so that I would choose strangling
and death rather than this body.
I loathe my life; I would not live forever.
Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
Why have you made me your target?
Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my transgression
and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
you will seek me, but I shall not be.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a woman who accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office. After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don’t follow my instructions carefully, your husband will surely die. Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch, make him a nutritious meal. For dinner, prepare an especially nice meal for him. Don’t burden him with chores. Don’t discuss your problems with him; it will only make his stress worse. Don’t nag him. Most importantly, make love to him regularly. If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, I think your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband asked his wife, “What did the doctor say?” “He said you’re going to die,” she replied.
Sometimes people have a way of choosing the wrong words to say! They see the suffering of those around them and instead of offering comforting words they somehow manage to find all the wrong words. Especially if those words of comfort will inconvenience them in any way as they would have for that inconsiderate wife. She knew the right words yet chose to ignore them. I imagine there are people out there like but luckily I haven’t come across them. It takes a particularly heartless person to encounter suffering in the world and choose not to say or do anything that would help ease that suffering. No, the people I’ve interacted with have either offered the right words of comfort or foolishly offered the wrong words with the right intention. They want to ease the suffering but they just don’t know how to do it with their words. Kind of like Job’s friends, one of which we heard of in our reading. Eliphaz wants to help Job in his suffering but he just doesn’t know how to with his words. He foolishly offers all the wrong words yet with the right intention. But can you blame him? The right words are often difficult words to say. They’re often words that show vulnerability and frailty. They’re words of commiseration, not words of strength and encouragement. Some people simply need to feel less alone in their suffering and the only way to meet that need is to reveal your own suffering. It’s nice being given the way out of suffering but it can be equally nice knowing you’re not alone in your suffering. A wise person, when confronted with suffering, will figure out which is the appropriate response–offer a way out or commiserate in the suffering.
Ultimately, Eliphaz was trying to offer a way out of Job’s suffering. He was trying to get Job to confess to any sins he may have committed as a way of explaining his suffering. If Job would confess his sins then he could get to work atoning for them and asking for God’s forgiveness, or so Eliphaz believed. And Eliphaz’s belief was an all-to-common belief at the time this incident occurred and continues among many people today. The belief is simple: suffering is a direct result of sin. Stop the sinning and you’ll stop the suffering. And if you can’t stop the sinning, simply ask for God’s forgiveness and in his endless grace and mercy He will grant an end to the suffering. The problem with this belief is that there is a lot of suffering in the world that is not the result of personal sin. The sins of others can cause a whole lot of suffering! So what, we’re to ask for God’s forgiveness on their sins too?! Isn’t it enough to be concerned with our own sins, let alone others’?! No, this world is a broken world and few of us have any control over others and their sins. It’s hard enough to control our own sinful natures. So Eliphaz’s words, though offered with the right intention of easing Job’s suffering, come across as foolish words. And remember, Job was an upright and God-fearing man! He regularly kept his sins and the sins of his children in check. He had nothing to confess and atone for. And we have the privilege of knowing Job’s suffering is simply the result of a wager between God and Satan.
Job would go on to be consoled by two other friends, each offering slightly different counsel on this idea that a man’s suffering is the result of his own personal sin. Wrong words, right intentions. It’s interesting that our readings chose to skip over the 2nd chapter where we could hear the reaction of Job’s wife to his suffering. Talk about wrong words! After Job is inflicted with loathsome sores from head to toe, his wife told him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die.” Sheesh, no man wants to hear such words from his wife! But they must have resonated with Job because soon after we hear him cursing the day he was born as we heard in the third chapter of our reading for this morning. Keep in mind he cursed the day he was born, not God. Job no longer wanted to live, what with having lost his estate and his children and his health and now his wife. He didn’t have much left to live for! Can you blame him for wanting death to take him?! Well, thankfully, Job never takes it to the next step and tries to actually kill himself. Instead, he channels that anger and self-loathing towards God and demands answers for his suffering which is perhaps the best thing to do. We need Job’s witness to illustrate that sometimes suffering is inexplicable and unjustifiable and also that it’s good to channel anger and frustration toward God.
Now just because Job’s wife and friend couldn’t offer the right words doesn’t mean there aren’t “right” words to be offered. God gave plenty of people in Scripture the “right” words, true words of comfort and hope. We hear from Paul in his letter to the Romans, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (5:3-5) These are arguably the most important words to offer to those who are suffering. Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope…it’s one, big chain of cause and effect. Or, as I’ve preached on in the past, Paul’s line of thinking is like a series of keys and locks. Suffering is the key to open the lock of endurance, endurance the key to open the lock of character, and character the key to open the lock of hope. We need hope to make it through life in this world. Without hope, we’d all be lost in our misery and sorrow. But hope isn’t simply handed out, it needs to be sought after and unlocked and that process begins with suffering. Without suffering, there is no hope, plain and simple. And we hear from David in his 34th psalm, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.” (vs. 19) There is inevitable suffering in this world. Even more inevitable is the suffering of those who seek to do God’s will, to do the right thing in this world. This world is beset by evil which in turn despises God’s will and righteous living. God’s will is invariably done but boy, does evil try ceaselessly to thwart his will! Be aware of evil and the ways of evil. Recall what Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to Timothy, “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (3:12) Expect to encounter resistance in doing God’s will and living righteously. And be assured that God rescues those who live righteously according to his will. His will IS done no matter what evil does!
Sometimes suffering is unexpected and unjustifiable and those around us offer all the wrong words. Thankfully, we have Job’s words and the words of many in Scripture to help us in our suffering. Job suffered inexplicably and unjustifiably but he never offered the wrong words. Paul and David never offered the wrong words. Let us give thanks for their words and witnesses. Let us be endlessly patient with those who offer wrong words. God so graciously gives us oh so many right words! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.