Saturday, August 28, 2010

Nine Lessons from the Book of Job

Dear Friends, Family and Fellow Students,

Here are the nine propositions I shared in the opening class last Sunday.

Summarizing main lessons from book of Job, utilizing D.A. Carson's book "How Long, O Lord?"
1. Not all Suffering is due to sin. Irrational evil and incoherent suffering do not fit into glib answers. The author rejects and mocks the notion of retributive, mathematically precise justice. Those who have not suffered may lean on the notion of retributive, symmetrical justice to provide themselves a sense of security. Therefore, beware of friends (and ourselves) who have a tight theology with no loose ends, where suffering is understood exclusively in terms of punishment or chastening with no category for innocent suffering - such a suggestion besmirches the integrity of God. Where there is little compassion, honest grief and empathy, even a defense of God can seem unbearably hard to swallow.
2. Suffering is part of the human condition. There is such a thing as innocent suffering, as demonstrated by the author's emphasis on Job's goodness. Given Job's situation, none of us should consider ourselves exempt from the possibility of disastrous loss.
3. Evil answers to the sovereign God. When dealing with human suffering, we must leave room for mystery which God allows to persist. Suffering falls within the sweep of God's sovereignty; therefore, all forms of dualism are rejected. Satan answers to God, and evil is not un-tethered. God's intent in the wager with Satan is to show that human beings can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving a prompt reward. Satan's thesis, that all religious interest is grounded in self-interest, or worse, mercenary commitment, is thus shown to be false.
4. God wants honest followers who will trust him. God does not blame us if in our suffering we frankly vent our despair and confess our loss of hope, our sense of futility and our lamentations about life itself. We can wrestle with God; be indignant with him; challenge him to come before us and provide answers, but we must do so as believers. Though we are innocent, we should never charge God with injustice. Whatever else may be said about the problem of evil and suffering, the justice of God must be a given. The proper response to suffering-that-we cannot-fathom is faith and perseverance and avoiding bitterness. In light of Job 36:15-16, be patient because it is better to be a chastened saint than a carefree sinner.
5. We must learn to suffer well - it is acceptable to challenge God, but we must do so as believers. Job's response is self-justifying, full of hard questions, asserting his innocence - ultimately resting on the simplistic notion of retributive, mathematical justice, which eventually leads him to accuse God of injustice. However, Job's arguments must not be confused with atheism or theological double-talk. Job's speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know him better and who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God - but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in light of his own experience. As far as he is concerned, confession of sin that he has not committed, just to satisfy his friends and perhaps win some sort of reprieve, would itself be sinful. His integrity is too important. In the end, Job's greatest sin may not be something he said or did before suffering started, but the rebellion he displayed in his suffering. The major difference between Job and his friends is not their underlying views of retribution, but their views of Job's guilt or innocence.
6. God’s ways are often mysterious to humans. God is greater than any mortal (33:12), meaning that God may well have some purposes and perspectives in mind of which we (and Job) know nothing. God speaks in revelation (33:15-18), dreams and visions, but also in the language of pain (33:19) as a chastening use of suffering that may be independent of some particular sin. Its purpose may be preventative - it can stop a person from slithering down a slope to destruction. God does not always answer our questions about evil and suffering, but he makes it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in his universe. Misinterpretations of God's answer to Job have this in common: they assume that everything that takes place in God's universe ought to be explained to us. they assume that God owes us an explanation. They assume that God Almighty should be more interested in giving us explanations than in being worshipped and trusted.
7. Sin, suffering and Satan are all foes of God, but part of his redemptive plan for human kind. God wins the wager in the end. Job may utter words that darken God's counsel, but he does not lose his integrity or abandon his God. Is it therefore surprising that there should be full reconciliation between God and Job? The challenge to Satan is not a capricious game, nor is the outcome obscure. It is mysterious, deep and solemn. The wager is congruent with the biblical themes of God's concern for the salvation of the men and women as part of a larger cosmic struggle between God and Satan which the outcome is certain but the struggle is horrible. The book of Job has no interest in praising mystery without constraint. All biblical writers - this one included - insist that to fear the Lord ultimately leads to an abundant life. The book does not disown all forms of retribution; rather it disowns simplistic, mathematically precise and instant applications of the doctrine of retribution. It categorically rejects any formula that affirms that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always destroyed.
8. Grace is God’s response to wayward, suffering servants. The blessings that Job experiences at the end are not rewards that he has earned by his faithfulness under suffering; rather they are the Lord's free gift. The epilogue is the OT equivalent to the NT's anticipation of the new heaven and new earth. No matter how happy the ending, nothing can remove the suffering itself.
9. The LORD is to be loved and worshiped for who he is, not for his blessings. Although they are trying to defend God, the three friends end up offering Job a temptation through the reductionist theology - to confess sins that weren't there in order to try to retrieve his prosperity. If Job had succumbed, it would have meant that Job cared more for prosperity than for his integrity or for the Lord himself - and the Lord would have lost his wager with Satan! Job would have been led away from God, being reduced to being yet another person interested in seeking God for merely personal gain.

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