Job 25-31: What Do You Do When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Expected It To?

Check out this video about Nick Vujicic, a Christian who understands that God uses suffering to teach us the most important lessons. 

Job, like most of us, had dreams.  Job didn’t have small dreams either.  He had a large family, great wealth, brilliance, great respect and he looked forward to a future that would continue to be the way it had always been.  Most people then, as now, bought into the idea that if you do things the right way, then most things will go your way.  Because of this belief, one naturally decides to do things the right way. Job feared God and because of this, he was very careful to always obey God.  I’m sure that it was this part of the struggle that was most painful for him.  He describes what motivated him to live so faithfully before God in 32:23, “For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor, I could not do such things.”  Job genuinely feared God, because he did not want to suffer for not being in fellowship with him, so he obeyed God and yet suffered more than even the most wicked he encountered throughout his life.  The shattering of his life was particularly dreadful for him because he had taken the greatest of pains to avoid the very circumstances in which he found himself in this book.

Job, before his great spiritual test, really believed that it was beneficial to play by the rules.  Maybe you have taken the same approach in your own life and you have also adopted the view that if you work hard, then you will naturally be rewarded.  Perhaps you have decided to spend time with your kids when they are young, so that they will spend time with you when you are old.  Maybe you have learned to say “no” to the temptation of instant gratification understanding that long-term benefits would eventually result.  Perhaps you treat the elderly with respect with the expectation that you will treated the same way when you are old.  Maybe you eat healthy and exercise regularly in order to increase your odds for a good quality of health and a long life. In many respects, it would be great if life were this predictable, but the reality is that it is not.

With this world view in mind, imagine that  in an instant, the company you worked to build over the course your entire life falls apart and you are left with nothing.  Your children, though you have nurtured them in the Lord, wander from the faith and away from any desire to spend time with you.  Though you have delayed instant gratification, you never quite make it to the place where you can take that long hoped for cruise or purchase that car or watch or gadget that you had always hoped you’d get.  For all the trouble that you have gone to to treat the aged respectfully, you find that the same kindnesses are not returned to you in your old age by a new generation of youth.  For all the health consciousness and discipline you have maintained over the years, you come to find out that you have been struck with the early onset of some terrible disease.  For all you have sacrificed and for all the ways you feel like you’ve played by the rules, you find yourself and all your dreams shattered by the events of life that take us by surprise.  If you have experienced this kind of disappointment, you are feeling the same kind of frustration that Job experienced. 

In chapter 25 we have one of the shortest, but a most succinct retelling of the friends’ position throughout the book.  Bildad sends the final shot across the bow of Job’s life with the words, “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven” (Job 25:2).  In other words, Bildad is making the point that just as there is order in the natural universe that is always predictable and always precise, so there is also an order in the moral universe as well.  This moral order of things is also extremely predictable and extremely precise.   This moral precision is what some theologians call the law of retribution.

Advocates of the law of retribution argue that life will hand back to us whatever we have done.  Such a philosophy can be described with the old phrase, “what goes around, comes around.”  Those who hold this view are convinced that God works in a predictable and consistent manner.  For those who do take this position, there is really very little compassion for those who suffer because, in reality, those people deserve what they are getting.  This is the cold view, of course, of Hinduism and it has born out its awful fruit in the inhumane treatment that has been divvied out to the lower casts over the last several thousand years.  As has been mentioned in previous discussions, the law of retribution has made a great come back within the Christian community over the last few decades as well. The health and wealth gospel or prosperity gospel advocates have been preaching this for sometime with great acclaim and to vast audiences on television and elsewhere. 

There are many explanations as to why this type of thinking has proven to be so attractive to people over the ages.  Perhaps, this way of thinking makes life predictable.  If we live right, good will happen. If we do wrong, then we will suffer for it.  Within the context of this thinking, God is sort of beholden to our choices and it takes him out of the mix as one who may bring the unplanned negatives into our lives.  For many people, particularly those who do not trust in God’s perfect will for our lives, it is attractive to hold such a view (I once had a word-faith pastor friend at another church rebuke me for praying for God’s will for my life.  He said to me, “don’t pray for God’s will, because he might give you what you don’t want.” That day I realized how totally off this theology really is). 

Yet, for Job, and anyone who has suffered in a way that seems disproportionate to their life’s contributions, such thinking is a great burden to bear.  Let it be said that I am not saying here that human suffering (or even Job’s) is ultimately unjust; the truth is that we all suffer because we live in a sinful and fallen world.  But what I am speaking to at this point is the idea that there is a  direct cause and effect of our sin and its consequences.  As I have mentioned the example in previous posts of a man who was born blind and everyone wondered whose sin caused the man’s condition – the man’s parents or the blind man himself.  Jesus, of course, said that this blindness was given to this man so that the glory of God could be revealed during Jesus’ ministry.  The point here is that there isn’t always a one to one correlation between sin and suffering because God has a bigger picture in mind then this shallow and mechanical worldview of the events of our lives.

As for a summary of Job’s argument, here is what has happened.  After Bildad’s attack on Job in Chapter 25, Job began a reasoned defense of his theology, life and circumstances.  In chapter 26 he began by affirming the great transcendent qualities of God that his friends have spoken about throughout their speeches.In chapter 27, Job goes on the offensive as he points out that God will be the final judge of the wicked.  These men have been ruthless with Job and surely he has this in mind as he says, “Here is the fate God allots to the wicked, the heritage a ruthless man receives from the Almighty: however many his children, their fate is the sword; his offspring will never have enough to eat.”  In 28, we get a “proverbs,” like lesson in wisdom and where it is found, and Job affirms like Solomon . . . “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”  In chapter 29, Job begins to share what his life had once been like . . . his hopes, his dreams and the difference that he made in others’ lives.  In chapter 30 he shares with us the devastation that he experienced as his dreams fell shattered on the cold, hard floor.  “Men listened to me expectantly, waiting in silence cor my counsel.  After I had spoken, they speak no more; my words fell gently on their ears. They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain. When I smiled at them, they were scarcely believed it; the light of my face was precious to them. I chose the way for them and sat as their chief; I dwelt as a king among his troops; I was like one who comforts mourners. But now they mock me, men younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to put with my sheep dogs” (Job 29:21-30:1).

Finally, we hear Job now wrapping up his defense and finally making his appeal that God might graciously choose to hear his case.  He will argue that while he is no perfect man, there was no reason why he should’ve gone through the sort of suffering that he has been faced with.  In chapter 31, we get a much better picture of Job’s pre-afflicted life than we have had to this point.  He is a man who was pure in his thinking; he was honest; blameless; focused on God; filled with integrity; treated his workers well; good to the poor; took care of the widows; shared with the fatherless; did not purger himself; did not worship false Gods; did not rejoice at his enemy’s misfortune; did not cures his enemies; showed hospitality to the stranger; was open about his faults and sins, etc., In this section we get the sense that Job has now made his case before God.  If he is guilty, he wants God to search him and try him and then punish him, but he desires justice nonetheless.

So, where do we find justice in the midst of our suffering and our shattered dreams?  Job supplies us with the answer to this question in this narrative . . . “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense — let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.  Surely I would wear it on m shoulder, I would put it on like a crown.  I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him” (Job 31:35-37).  Job shows us that there is only one great source of justice . . . it is God himself.  Amazingly for Job, and as we will soon see, God is what he is going to get.


2 Responses to “Job 25-31: What Do You Do When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way You Expected It To?”

  1. John Crutchfield Says:

    Hi Bruce,
    You make Job’s condition more real and understandable, especially as it relates to his relationship with friends and the “health and wealth” gospel. Thank you.
    I am offended by the idea that people would choose to love and worship God based on what He might give them, as if salvation through His Son wasn’t enough.
    Furthermore, that approach is self serving. It puts our desires ahead of God’s. What’s wrong with loving Him simply because He loved us first?
    Thanks again,

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    Thanks John for your comments. As John Piper mentioned in the first video, “God is enough.” He has another book that I really enjoyed called, “God is the gospel.” He is enough and he is the gift . . .

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