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Sovereignty in Tragedy: Lessons from Eliphaz

Posted by Ron Moore on

At The Bible Chapel, we’re currently studying through Job’s story—a man God described as blameless and upright, who feared God and turned from evil. When Job faces the unthinkable – losing his wealth, health, and family – his three friends come to his side. A little over a week ago, we looked at Job’s friend Eliphaz’s words.

When I think about the tragedy of the most recent school shooting, it’s easy to question God and ask him why this happens. These kinds of questions remind me of the theme of Eliphaz’s argument because so many people hold to this theology today:

Do what is right and things will go well. Do what is wrong and God will punish you.

When we follow this dangerous way of thinking, the results are a thinking that puts obedience as a coin, and makes God like one of those old gumball machines. Put in the coin and out comes the prize.

Now most people agree that God ultimately blesses obedience, right? One day we will be ushered into heaven. Scripture talks about rewards in heaven. So, we all agree that God blesses obedience—ultimately. But the question of Job is not—Is God enough for eternity. The question of Job is—Is God enough for today. Is God enough in real life in real time? And many people—in pain—at some point or another ask, “God, what did I do to deserve this?” And Eliphaz would say—I don’t know what you did but you did something. Your suffering is a result of sin.

Isn’t that something we see a lot in today’s world? We think that things happen as a direct result of a former action. When I look at this book, I see three things in these conversations between Job and Eliphaz:

  1. All suffering is not the result of sin. Certainly if I rob a bank I can expect to go to prison. If I abuse my body with drugs there are consequences. If I walk out on my family there are consequences. But—as we learn from Job—our suffering is not always the result of sin. We must never put that burden on anyone going through severe suffering. No one is perfect and we live in a sinful world and sometimes suffering is caused by the sin of others. But not ours. That is a strong lesson from Job.

I remember teaching Job many years ago in a Bible study and there was one person who would not accept that. I thought her to be a mature believer, well-grounded in Scripture. But she argued and argued that Job must have done something wrong. Job tells a different story. So how do we reconcile that sometimes suffering just comes?

  1. God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. From our standpoint on earth, many things don’t seem to make sense. Many things seem unfair. Like Job, we cry out for God and feel he is nowhere to be found. But he is always found. He is always there. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is always enough—in our questions, in our pain, in our suffering, in our loss, when our hearts are broken. The psalmist says

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

  1. Comfort and encourage those who are suffering. Job’s three friends did a great job—the first seven days when they sat in silence. Then Eliphaz started talking. Eliphaz had to make sure his theology—based on his observation and experience—fit Job’s suffering. Job, you are a sinner. Your sin caused your suffering. Repent and turn to God. All that while Job was sitting at the city dump covering his blisters and crying out to God. Finally, Job said, “miserable comforters are you all.”

When someone is going through a difficult time—grief, loss—we are not there to fix the problem, or heal their hurt, or repair the damage. We can’t. We don’t need to show up with Christian clichés.

Joe Bayly was an evangelical writer and publisher. Bayly writes this about something that happened right after one of his children died.

"I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God's dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he'd go away. He finally did. 

"Another came and sat beside me. He didn't talk. He didn't ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. 

"I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go."

 http://www.actsweb.org/articles/article.php?c=3&d=2&i=1655

We need to comfort and encourage those who are hurting. Not try to fix them, instruct them, or challenge them. When we see our friends or family facing difficult times in this life, and we are promised that there will be trials, we need to look to God and know that he is sovereign. Be present and be still.

We don’t have to have the right words, but we can focus on loving our friends and family.

I encourage you to read the full book of Job, and more specifically Job 4-7, 15-17, and 22-24 to see Eliphaz and his conversation with Job. View the full sermon here.

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