Don’t be like Job’s friends.
I’ve said that quite a few times when encouraging people not to be miserable counselors to suffering people. In the face of a hurting and destitute Job—who at times was even suicidal—all these friends did was spout theological truths and tell Job that if he would repent then things would get better for him.
Finally in Job 42:7 we hear what we have been longing for throughout the entire book; namely, the rebuke of Job’s friends. The LORD said to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
What did they say that was untrue?
The core of their theology was that God does not punish the righteous. Suffering comes because of discipline from the Almighty. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”
All suffering is a punishment for sin. All prosperity is a reward for righteousness. God is just and He does not punish the righteous. Therefore, Job must be sinning or else he would not be suffering. If he repents the Lord is gracious and He will heal and restore Job.
Before we dismiss their theology we should consider a key verse in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 28 the Lord outlines what will happen if the Israelites faithfully obey the Lord. “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God”. Prosperity is the reward for righteousness.
“But if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” Suffering is the punishment for sin.
Job’s friends passed their Old Testament class in seminary. Sort of. They got the multiple choice questions correct but they blew it on the essay where they were to apply their theology. The problem is that they take something that is true and offer it as the only explanation for Job’s suffering. This is where I get an axiom that I teach my students: good theology that is wrongly applied, stinks.
It is a general principle that if you “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”. Except sometimes they do. And the parents did everything they could to train up their child. They were good and godly parents just like Job was a righteous man. But for some reason their child departed from the faith.
Those that follow in the stead of Job’s friends will assume that a rebellious child must equal ungodly parents. It might. But it does not have to; assuming that it does will cause one to speak things that are untrue of God.
There are some things that are always true no matter the context; i.e. Jesus Christ is the only way to God. But there are some things that are generally true but shouldn’t be applied as if they are always true. The wise counselor won’t flatten truth the way Job’s friends do. Instead the wise counselor will hold the hand of suffering people as they, as Job, grope to find the One that is Truth and in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.