The Mistakes Of Job’s Friends

The story of Job in the Old Testament is so poignant. It’s hard to read about this godly man who Satan went after in his effort to tear down the worshipers of God. Although I know some think this is controversial, I believe that Satan achieved his goal, but in doing so he opened the door to God reveling Himself more clearly and showing His great mercy, as a foreshadowing of His gift of mercy through Christ. In that respect, Satan failed miserably.

But poor Job! Not only did he lose everything, not only did his kids die and his wife turn against him, not only did his physical health deteriorate horribly so that he had to endure pain and discomfort like he’d never known, but he had a handful of friends who had no understanding of what coming to console the grieving actually should entail.

First, the friends talked. That was their initial mistake. They started well, siting with Job for a long time in utter silence. But when Job verbalized his thoughts, the friends felt the need to correct him. They couldn’t simply let him vent.

What’s more, in speaking, they took it upon themselves to correct Job’s theology. No, Job, they said in their various ways, God would only allow these horrible things to happen to you if you deserved them. You must have done something horrible, or thought something horrible, or perhaps left something good undone. It’s really just your fault that you’re poor now, that all your kids died, and your body is covered with painful sores.

As if this position was not bad enough, there are several places in the text that make me think the friends had some financial stake in the advice they were giving Job. Sacrifice, one said at one point, and God will forgive you. But the way he said it sounds as if somehow the friends would get a share of whatever Job would sacrifice.

Of course telling a man who has lost all his flocks to sacrifice, is a little pointless. Unless they were offering to sell him some of their flock. In chapter 22 one friend says,

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored;
If you remove unrighteousness far from your tent,
And place your gold in the dust,
And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks,

Well, that might be thin, but earlier Job had said

He who informs against friends for a share of the spoil,
The eyes of his children also will languish. (17:5)

Was he accusing them of “informing” on him, of pointing a finger at him and saying he’d done something wrong in order to get a share of whatever of his possessions remained? Perhaps. Again, earlier he said of the friends,

You would even cast lots for the orphans
And barter over your friend. (6:27)

Seems as if they were at least conducting business while he was in his misery—and business without compassion. At one point he tells them what they ought to be doing, which is a great piece of advice for us, too, I think:

For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

The greatest thing a friend can do is point someone who is hurting to God Almighty. But the friends could only tell Job what he must have done wrong or what he had not done right.

On top of this, they misconstrued God’s work in the world. They may have done so because they honestly didn’t know God, didn’t understand His true nature. Basically they told Job it was up to him to manipulate God so that He had to bless Job. This precursor to today’s “health-and-wealthers” ignores God’s sovereignty and mankind’s dependency on His justice and righteousness and mercy.

Job understood that God could do what God wanted to do. The friends painted Him as irrevocably tied to what Man did or did not do. If you do A, they said, God will bless; but if you do B, God will curse.

That’s not altogether wrong. But it’s too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account the bigger picture that includes the spiritual and the eternal. The friends were sort of like people today who can’t see past the here and now, as if this life is all there is, as if what happens physically in this life is all that’s important.

One last thing I think the friends got wrong: when Job lashed out at them (and at God), they got defensive. As I recall, one of the “steps” of grief involves anger. Job does seem angry at times, but who wouldn’t be? A bunch of guys had just robbed him, killed a lot of his servants, and a storm had taken the lives of his children. He himself fell into depression and experienced physical pain because of his health problems. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t have some anger connected with all this.

But the response of the friends seems inexcusable. They kind of gave Job a dose of their own anger.

Scripture says they came to console Job, but they ended up saying things that had to be hurtful. Take for example what one of the friends said about the wicked:

He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned. (18:19)

The whole speech seems pretty pointed, but these lines take on a mean quality when you think about the fact that this guy is talking to someone who had just lost all his children.

No wonder God stepped in. The defensive nature of the friends’ responses to Job was anything but helpful. They weren’t even truthful, though there was an element of truth in what they said. Just enough to make their ideas sound pious. But they lost sight of the fact that comforting someone else wasn’t all about them.

Actually it started with representing God truthfully, and that’s something Job knew, but they did not.

Published in: on January 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Life Is Too Big

fortress-of-stone-5-979165-mI have a little life. By that I mean, my life is pretty uncomplicated. I work from home, don’t have a mortgage, live a fairly simple life with no ex’s or in-laws or extended family putting demands on me. And yet, at times I feel life is too big.

And that too needs explanation. For one, there’s so much to do. I’m certainly not saying I have more to do than other people, but the fact is, I’ve gotten myself into a variety of roles—administrator for the CSFF blog tour, regular contributor at Spec Faith, judge of an ACFW contest, organizer of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction, freelance editor. and now workshop instructor at the Oregon Christian Writers conference.

Each of those roles—and I didn’t even include writing, either my fiction or non-fiction, or blogging—has various “stuff to do” attached to it. Sometimes, it all feels too big.

But more than that, I have a friend whose father just passed away, a couple I know who are both in the hospital—she with cancer and he with serious respiratory issues—another friend who’s husband is looking at a lung transplant, a neighbor whose daughter has an undiagnosed illness. Sometimes just the physical needs of people make life seem too big. Who can visit or write notes of consolation or even pray for everyone in need?

I haven’t even gotten to the spiritual needs or the emotional needs of people I’m privileged to have in my life.

How about the notes or emails or phone calls to those I care about—some friends I don’t want to lose, some relatives I dearly love.

All this in my little life.

Add in concerns, and even responsibilities as a good citizen, for my state and my nation and yes, the world. To be honest, my involvement at this level is small, mostly concentrated in prayer, though I try to stay informed, make every effort to vote, and do pay my taxes.

The sum total of it all makes it clear to me—life is too big.

I think it’s gotten bigger in the last two decades, what with the Internet and social media, which also carry wonderful advantages even as they increase the bigness of life.

I spent three years as a short term missionary in Guatemala and went for months not reading a newspaper (they were in Spanish and I’m not fluent) or watching TV. I didn’t know who was in the Super Bowl, what the President said in his State of the Union speech, or what movie had just been released.

I didn’t know what was happening in France or Israel or Cuba. Life was considerably smaller, and I suspect that’s the way life in the US used to be, too.

But now we are global and instant and connected.

It all feels too big to me.

It’s times like this that I am so thankful I have a big God. It’s sort of silly to call God “big” because He has no limit. Can Someone unlimited be measured and compared so He can be described as “big”? It doesn’t quite feel right, but the point, I guess, is that God is over, above, beyond, outside of all the other bigness of life.

He’s bigger than my concerns for my sick or grieving friends. He’s bigger than all the activities I’ve got on my to do list. He’s bigger than my concerns for the spiritual well-being of our nation, for the spiritual well-being of my neighbors and family and friends.

In many respects, I’m glad I’m aware that life is too big for me to handle because it presses me into the cleft of the Rock Who is higher than I.

I am so much more aware of my need for God when I am aware of how life is too big for me to take on by myself. Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone manages without God. I mean, friends and loved ones can support and encourage and help, but life is too big for them too, so in the end we’re doing little more than shuffling the furniture around and hoping that makes life easier to manage. It doesn’t.

Only God, with His strength and understanding and plan and purpose, can make it all come out right. I don’t even know what “right” looks like. He does. He’s got the whole thing in His hand.

Published in: on January 20, 2015 at 6:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Peace That Is Up To You

mall-at-christmas-699243-mMuch of the time, when we talk about peace, we’re referring to the absence of conflict. Most of us don’t relish conflict in our lives. Oh, we love it in the novels we read, the movies we watch, and in our favorite TV programs. When it comes to stories, conflict makes them tense and puts us on the edge of our seats.

Some people might even like conflict in an intellectual way, so they encourage debate and get involved in controversial Internet discussions.

But few of us like conflict with our family or friends or boss or co-workers. We don’t have that fictitious expectation that the conflict will work its way out for the good and the protagonist (ME) will reach a new state of happy equilibrium. In real conflict, we get thrust into uncertainty. What if this problem is so great it leads to divorce? What if my son defies me? What if my friend pulls away? What if I get fired? What if my co-worker takes his complaint over my head? What if . . .

Conflict is so uncomfortable, some people just wish it away. If we wait long enough, the thinking goes, emotions will simmer down and we won’t have to confront these ugly conflict issues because the other party won’t care so much. Honestly, that tactic can work. Except there’s an unspoken list of grievances that gets started. At some point, that list gets so long, the person keeping it simply has had enough and out comes every fragment of unresolved conflict that’s been added from the start.

The explosions of temper can be hard to handle. One party may have no clue where this sudden and seemingly unreasoned flare up has come from, and the other, armed to the teeth, lets loose with every vindictive accusation imaginable. It’s not a pretty scene and one that will be much harder to dig out of than the original conflict.

But we don’t like conflict. So are we destined to face either huge blow-ups from time to time or a steady diet of smaller conflicts we have to resolve?

Certainly some conflicts are inevitable. You can’t both have the last piece of pie. You can’t both drive. You can’t both pick the movie you’re going to see. These are small things, but they illustrate the point that some conflict will come our way and must be resolved.

In the resolution we have some guidance from Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:13b says, “live in peace with one another.” But clearly this is not an admonition to avoid conflict because the next verse goes on to say, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”

Hebrews adds another layer to these commands: “Pursue peace with all men . . . See to it that . . . no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled” (12:14-15).

The command nature of these passages suggests this peace is dependent upon what we do. We can live in peace or not. We can pursue peace or not. In Romans Paul gives instruction how we’re to do this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:9-21, emphases added)

So much wisdom there. In a nutshell, we aren’t going to achieve peace in every circumstance because it isn’t entirely up to us, but we should take care of what we can take care of.

We can be devoted not to ourselves but others, give preference to the other guy, hang in there when it’s hard, share what we have with people in need, speak kindly to those harassing us, empathize with people whether they’re in good circumstances or hard ones, keep from being proud, realize we aren’t all that, refuse to pay back those who hurt us, defeat bad behavior with good.

Peace at Christmas seems to be a tad harder than at any other time. We have more to do, for one thing, but we may also have more people in our lives than usual. We have the annoying aunt spending the week with us or the guy from the mail room we usually avoid who we end up sitting next to at the office party. We have the kids’ Christmas program to go to and all that shopping in the overly crowded malls.

Even looking for a parking place can send peace flying from our minds. Preference to others? No way! That was my parking place. I saw it first and I’ve been circling this lot for the last ten minutes!

Here’s the key. Imagine we’re servants (think Downton Abbey and the downstairs servants). We are at the beck and call of the upstairs people we serve. We eat and sleep according to their schedules. We go to them when they ring, no matter what they might be interrupting. Our focus is simply on their needs, not ours.

That, I believe, is the way of peace this passage sets out—so far as it depends on us.

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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People Who Make Me Smile

smiling peopleLife is hard, and then we die, some people say. Others work to fill their days with something, anything, just so they won’t feel bored. Neither is a happy way of looking at life.

On top of this sort of everyday ennui, we also have the news. It’s bad enough that we have to learn about the latest home invasion in a nearby town, but now we see the images of the attack on spectators at the Boston Marathon. Something fun and healthy and traditional which should be celebrated, turned into a horrific memory of anonymous cruelty and devastation.

The world’s become such a fun place!

Nevertheless, there are people who make me smile:

  • The long distance friend who calls me every year for my birthday
  • The writer who sent me a copy of her book so I can read and review
  • The former student who has become a good friend
  • The pastor whose face lights up when he sees me
  • The neighbor who surprised me with a bowl of fresh fruit
  • The Facebook friend who posts pictures of her kids reading and writing instead of watching TV
  • Another Facebook friend who talks basketball with me
  • A former teacher friend who passes along interesting newspaper articles
  • The cross country friend who talks theology with me over the phone

Which brings me to the most important Person who makes me smile. Yes, I’m talking about Jesus, the Messiah, seated now at the right hand of God. But He makes me smile because of what He did for me at the cross, what He does for me daily through His Spirit, and what He will do for me throughout eternity.

I realize this is all very “me”-centric, but the cool thing is, Jesus is the kind of friend who can give and give and give without ever wearing out. In other words, what He gives to me in no way exhausts His supply of gifts so that He has nothing for the next person. In fact, there is no end to what He wants to give each of us.

This is one of the truths the word of faith people have right–up to a point. The really cool thing about Jesus is that He knows what I need even when it’s different from what I think I need. Being a Good God, He will not give me something I want when He knows it would be bad for me. Parents who spoil their children do that–giving candy for breakfast, letting them stay up until 2:00 a.m., allowing them to ditch school whenever they want.

God loves me, so He won’t give me razor blades to play with just because I ask. Rather, His good gifts–even the ones that feel like cod liver oil instead of ice cream–are designed to draw me closer to Him, to shape me in the image of Jesus.

What could be better? To think that the One who knows all the stupid stuff I’ve done, the hateful stuff I’ve wanted to do, the selfish stuff I try to do–that King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that One Who is highest and best, accepts me, loves me, and wants me to hang with Him forever. Yeah, that One makes me smile.

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Some 2011 Stuff I Like (That’s A Date, Not An Amount)

Every year has its unique trials, some personal and some national or even global. But there are good things too, and I want to focus on those. Too often they get shuttled to the side, so here are things I like from this year, in random order — and even saying that is giving this list more credit for organization than it deserves. 😀

More truthfully, this is an “as I think it, down it goes” list.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 movie came out.
  • God provided the resources I needed so I didn’t have to move.
  • My friend Sally Apokedak signed with a literary management company.
  • Critique group member Mike Duran‘s debut novel Resurrection came out.
  • Tim Tebow became a starter for the Denver Broncos and led them on a six-game winning streak.
  • Fred Warren joined the Spec Faith team in January, and John Otte came on board this summer.
  • I finished book four of The Lore of Efrathah.
  • Thanks to my crit group, I saw how to re-write a section of book 3 and the opening part of book 4 — work that is also finished now.
  • I finally found a candidate for President I could support with my whole heart — Rick Santorum.
  • God surprised me with the generosity of friends, some in small ways, others in big ways — each encouraging and a reminder that God never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • My church did a summer sermon series on faith from Hebrews 11.
  • Our pastor search team announced the top things our congregation identified as qualities we want in our pastor, and number one came in as expository preaching.
  • Books 1-3 of D. Barkley Briggs’s Legends of Karac Tor came out with AMG.
  • I learned about Katie Davis, an inspiring young woman who is serving Christ in Africa by working with orphans, even adopting many. She started when she was sixteen!
  • After a long wait, Andrew Peterson’s third book in the Wingfeather Saga released this summer.
  • The LA Galaxy won the MLS championship.
  • I entered the 24-hour Short Story contest twice and ended up with two stories I like.
  • I picked up a handful of new editing clients, some who have already brought repeat business.
  • I started memorizing Scripture again — currently working on the book of Colossians.
  • Agent Lee Hough (Alive Communications) learned that his first scan after treatment for an aggressive brain cancer showed he is cancer free.
  • Trish Miller, my sister-in-law, lost her job only to find a better one a month later.
  • Following the sermon series on faith, my church followed up with a study of the book of Mark entitled, Fix Your Eyes on Jesus.
  • I’m starting to figure out how to use Twitter.
  • I got new windows in the living room.
  • Our apartment building was painted this fall.
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family was fantastic.
  • I got to see my nephew run in a cross country race I used to coach.
  • The blog traffic at my editing site — Rewrite, Reword, Rework — has increased, and I think it’s in large part because of a Facebook group I’m in, PenTalk.
  • Writing group meetings have been helpful and encouraging and thought-provoking. Our members keep me working to improve.
  • Friendships near and far have brought me closer to Christ.

That’s a good place to end, thinking about iron relationships — the ones that sharpen one another (Prov. 27:17). 😉

Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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