Sunday, November 23, 2008

How Do You Treat Those Suffering In Their Trials? (Part Two)

For Part One, see Seek To Offer Comfort.

2) Remember Words Of Grief Are Often As The Wind, Spoken Without Meaning:

Job 6:1-5 But Job answered and said, Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea: therefore my words are swallowed up. For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me. Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?

Job says, “I am crying out and you can see my misery and you show no pity at all. You act as if I’m not in trouble. I wouldn’t be crying out if I weren’t.” He points out that the longeared donkey out in the field doesn’t bray for something to eat when he is eating grass. So Job is saying that he wouldn’t be crying out if there were nothing hurting him. He says, “I’m hurting and I’m hurting bad.” [McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 2000, c1981.]

Later in the same chapter, Job states this:

Job 6:14-17 To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty. My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; Which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: What time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place.

They were like an oasis in the desert that promised refreshing, but it never came, it was only a mirage - or like a frozen brook in the winter that looked safe enough to walk on, but instead cracked and broke underfoot.

The word for pity used in verse 14 means "kindness or mercy", and comes from a root word meaning "to bow (the neck only in courtesy to an equal), i.e. to be kind." Job's friends did not treat him like an equal - they looked down on him. Instead of having sympathy with what he was going through, they condemned him by their wrong assumptions about his situation. They mocked him, looked down upon him, accused him of being a hypocrite and a liar in his statements to them. Instead of seeking to strengthen his walk with the Lord, they despised the fact that he was struggling and his feet were ready to slip.

Job 12:2-5 No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these? I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn. He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.

Job 6:24 Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.

Job was saying he was teachable - he knew he was a sinner, but he also knew that he was not being chastised for some hidden sin in his life. Job wasn't afraid of answers, or of words offered in comfort and hope - but that wasn't what his friends brought him.

Job 6:21 For now ye are nothing; ye see my casting down, and are afraid.

Job 6:28-30 Now therefore be content, look upon me; for it is evident unto you if I lie. Return, I pray you, let it not be iniquity; yea, return again, my righteousness is in it. Is there iniquity in my tongue? cannot my taste discern perverse things?

Some commentators make Job out to be self-righteous, but he was not. He knew he could not stand before God in his own righteousness. The problem was he was not aware of any specific sin in his life that God would be judging him for. Job held fast to his integrity. His friends wanted him to admit guilt on his part - but he knew he wasn't being chastised for unrepented sin, and to admit the opposite would be to lie just to meet the approval of his friends (and THAT would be sin!). His friends were afraid of the possibility that God could bring someone through a trial for no specific sin on their part - if so, what happened to Job could happen to them too! In their fear, they dealt harshly with their friend, rather than be a source of comfort to him.

Later, we do find Job justifying himself rather than the Lord God. He did not know why God was allowing his trials, and he knew it was not due to specific sin on his part, so he started to question God's goodness and justice and started to justify himself. He needed to keep trusting in the Lord regardless.

Job 32:1-3 So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends was his wrath kindled, because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job.

Job 6:25-26 How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove? Do ye imagine to reprove words, and the speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind?

The Hebrew word for forcible means "properly, to press, i.e. (figuratively) to be pungent or vehement; to irritate," and also includes the meanings of "grievous, sore." Job states his friends' words were strong and pressing upon him, they were weighty and powerful - but did not apply in his situation. He was desperate and was just letting out hot air.

The word used here for desperate means "to desist, i.e. (figuratively) to despond," and is in reference to being "in despair and without hope"; despond carrying the idea of giving up and no longer striving. Webster's 1828 Dictionary gives the following definitions for this word: "1. To be cast down; to be depressed or dejected in mind; to fail in spirits. 2. To lose all courage, spirit or resolution; to sink by loss of hope."

Job was despondent and was just venting his grief, but his friends reproved him as if his vain words were something of substance, and were more important to deal with than Job's situation. Job was looking for hope and letting out steam, empty words; however, they were looking for reasons to condemn him - not offering Job answers, but attempting to place blame squarely on him for his trials.

It is sad and interesting to note that Bildad later rips Job's words out of context and, instead of having pity on him and overlooking his empty words, he casts them back in Job's face:

Job 8:2 How long wilt thou speak these things? and how long shall the words of thy mouth be like a strong wind?

Even though Job basically states he was without hope (confident expectation), he was actually filled with it (looking forward to seeing his Saviour face to face, looking forward to the resurrection, looking forward to coming forth as gold at the end of these trials, etc.). Perhaps what was on the inside came out in his frustration with his friends, but the book of Job is filled with words of hope. Though he may have thought of giving up on the Lord, he never did. Yes, he took his eyes off the Lord here and there in his trials, but he never turned from (ie. rejected) the Lord. Though he may have given up on living at times, as he stated in several places, he persevered (the meaning of patience in the following verse) in his walk with the Lord:

James 5:11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

We see that the Lord had pity on Job, even when his friends did not!

November 23rd/08
Jerry Bouey

How Do You Treat Those Suffering In Their Trials? (Part One)

As I was reading through the book of Job recently, I was thinking about our response to those suffering through trials or grieving. I have met various people that were not right with God and did not have the right (ie. Biblical) perspective on their trial or in their grief. Many times we hear vain or sometimes even blasphemous words from someone professing to be a believer, who is having a hard time trusting the Lord in their situation. What is our response?

Certainly we should pray for wisdom and do what we can to offer them Biblical comfort and hope - but how do we react to their words spoken in fear or pain? I agree, sin is sin - if someone speaks against God, it is not somehow excusable or acceptable because they are going through a difficult time in their lives. However, it is understandable. They need to repent of their words toward the Lord that were spoken out of rashness or anger. I believe it is wrong to simply overlook them (in the sense that we give the person the impression that it is alright to rant against God), and they need to be addressed - but in what way?

I have been thinking about some passages from Job, and I want to bring them forth for consideration.

1) Seek To Offer Comfort:

Job 2:11-13 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.

Job's friends were to be commended for seeking out Job to offer him comfort; however, as the book goes on to show, they did not have the right perspective on his suffering and placed blame upon Job, and condemned him, rather than truly being a help or comfort to him. From the Scriptures, we can glean general principles on the why of trials (two main principles we can apply to every trial: it is to draw us closer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make us more like Him) - though we ourselves may not know all the specific reason(s) why someone is going through a particular trial. Other reasons may be to chastise us, to test us, to strengthen our faith, to bring growth and development in a certain area of our lives, to produce Christlike virtues in us (such as selfless love, true patience/perseverance - which only trials can do), to allow us to experience something that the Lord may later use in our lives to be a comfort or blessing to others, etc.

We can encourage them to keep (or put) their eyes on the Lord, to cling to promises in His Word, to consider what the Lord is doing in that trial, to encourage them to repent if they themselves are convinced the trial was caused due to chastisement (the Lord will let them know - He doesn't chastise His children without revealing the sin to them), to remind them where their faith should be (ie. have the right perspective), to wean them from the world or worldly influences, to exhort them to be a blessing and a witness to those around them (rather than being self-consumed), to challenge them to dig deep into the Scriptures and to seek God's wisdom (James 1:5-8 is in the context of seeking wisdom in the midst of trials). There is so much the Lord desires to do in us and through us in each trial - we need to be steadfastly focussed on Him, and allow His Holy Spirit to teach us through this trial - rather than be so determined to get out of the trial that we are not open to His conviction and leading.

Job went through his trials without knowing the why behind them. He did not know they were a test allowed by God. His three friends were wrong in assuming that Job was involved in unrepentant sin and that was the reason for the trials. We know that was not the case because of the testimony of Job given by God Himself in the early chapters of the book. Job's words of grief, confusion, and perhaps anger were spoken without knowledge:

Job 42:3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

Job assumed God was against him and wanted to cause him affliction and questioned God's goodness or fairness toward him as a result. Yet, we see both Job and his friends were wrong - and this book gives us many answers that they did not have during the trial itself. Yes, Job had great faith in the Lord - but it needed to be tempered, and he needed to keep trusting even in the dark, which at times in his trials he failed to do. We need not be harsh or condemning of Job for this as far as I know of Scripture and life experiences, next to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, I don't think anyone else will ever go through as great a trial as Job did. Maybe I am wrong, but I think God gave us a worst case scenario and showed us He was still in control and we can still trust Him regardless of whatever we may go through.

Eliphaz, the first of Job's friend to speak, made these comments:

Job 4:2-6 If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking? Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled. Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?

I have read this book over and over in the sixteen years that I have been saved and I fully believe Eliphaz was right to rebuke Job's lack of faith or trust in the Lord here. But lately I have been considering how he stated this - as that would have made all the difference. Was it as a friend, trying to lift up his fallen brother? (See Upheld By The Lord) "Job, don't forget about all that God has done for you. Remember all the times you upheld and strengthened others that were falling? God is still the same, He is still as faithful today. Keep looking up to Him, Job!" Or was it more of a condemning nature? "Job, what is wrong with you? Where is your faith? What happened to all your words of comfort and hope for others? Was that all just talk? Was it easy to talk without having experienced these trials for yourself? Were all your words of faith just vain and empty now that you are going through hard times?" Knowing how his three "friends" had condemned Job, I am starting to think perhaps this is how he began his conversations with Job.

About a month or two ago, I had a man come to my office for "counselling" who had very recently lost his wife. I tried to share some of what I experienced with the loss of my parents and several friends within the last few years, and how the Lord comforted me and gave me hope in those dark times. Unfortunately, this man really did not want to hear anything, he did not want to put his eyes back on the Lord - he just wanted to have a pity party, which was sad. To everything I said his response was basically, "I know all that. Your losses don't compare to mine, and you are really not a help," though it was him who had sought out me. I did not condemn the man in any way for his grief or his loss. I did ask him some questions about the situation that led to the loss of his wife, and to determine where they both were spiritually. They both professed to be saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation - so I focussed on the hope we have in Christ and that he would see her again at the rapture. I shared how God's Word and His Holy Spirit comforted me, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear. Who was I to compare my insignificant trials to his!! No, I don't know everything, but I have been through some fiery trials. They may not compare to the trials of some others, but they are what the Lord has allowed in my life to be a source of comfort and strength to others, as 2 Corinthians speaks about:

2 Corinthians 1:3-6 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

It is not all about me - it is about our Saviour and the promises in His Word! Being able to identify in some measure with the afflictions of others is of tremendous benefit in being a source of comfort to them.

November 23rd/08
Jerry Bouey

Note: This theme ended up being a bigger subject to tackle than I had originally anticipated. To make it a little easier to read, I have broken it up into smaller sections.

Part Two: Remember Words Of Grief Are Often As The Wind, Spoken Without Meaning