Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When Bad Things Happen To Good People: A Study Of The Book Of Job. Day 11, Job's Friend Bildad Speaks

The second of Job's three friends speaks up today and his words are more cruel than those of Eliphaz.

"Then Bildad the Shuhite replied: 'How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind. Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right? When your children sinned against Him, He gave them over to the penalty of their sin.'" (Job 8:1-4) Eliphaz accused Job of being a sinner, but Bildad goes a step further. He asserts that Job's children were sinners and God punished them for it. In his mind, since God is never unjust, their fate must have been deserved.

We don't know whether Job's children were living in sin or not. We were told in Chapter One that he was in the habit of making sacrifice on their behalf just in case they had "sinned and cursed God in their hearts". (Job 1:5) I think this indicates Job saw no outward signs of rebellion toward God but wanted to cover all bases just in case sin was hidden in their hearts. What we do know is that the afflictions that fell on the family of Job were not sent as punishment for any deeds they may have committed. This tragedy, difficult as it is for us to accept, is for a different purpose.

Bildad is offended that Job dares to question God. He believes instead that Job ought to be thankful he wasn't considered as wicked as his children, since God has allowed him to live. Now he thinks the best thing Job can do is humble himself and repent and submit to the Lord. "But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now He will rouse Himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state. Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be." (Job 8:5-7)

Bildad and Job's other two friends are firm believers in an Old Testament form of the prosperity gospel. They view their relationship with God as a contract: they are obligated to do what is right and God is obligated to reward them with material blessings. The lack of material wealth is evidence to them that the person is not keeping up his end of the bargain. The fatal flaw in this theology is that in our fallen world the fortunes of many are made by deceit and wickedness. How to explain this obvious contradiction? What about Psalm 73 which is the lament of a godly man regarding the prosperity of the wicked? Asaph, the author, says he envied the arrogant when he saw their wealth increasing. He noticed they didn't have to struggle in the same ways as the poor. Their income allowed them to enjoy better nutrition and health, plus their minds were free of the stresses of ordinary people. Asaph was bitter over what he saw as the unfairness of such a thing. But when he talked to God about it, he realized that the wicked who prosper on the earth better enjoy it while they can, for they will be cast down to ruin. But as for the godly, who may or may not attain material wealth, God is always with them, holding them by their right hand, guiding them with His counsel, and preparing an eternal home for them. When Asaph saw the sharp contrast between the eternal fate of the wicked and the eternal fate of the righteous, he came to the same conclusion Job will later come to, "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You." (Psalm 73:21-22) This doesn't mean we can't feel upset by our circumstances or that we can't ask God why He allows certain things to happen. David, considered a man after God's own heart, often poured out all his feelings to the Lord even when those feelings were ugly. As God's children we have the freedom to say, "Daddy, why?" And like an earthly father, our heavenly Father has the freedom to explain His reasons to us or not. My earthly father sometimes provided me with an explanation for his decisions and sometimes he didn't, either because I wouldn't have understood them or because as the higher authority he was not accountable to me. I won't pretend to like it, but God doesn't owe us an explanation.

Bildad goes on to say if Job doesn't believe his words, he should ask the older and wiser folks in the community and they will back him up. "Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?" (Job 8:8-10)

Now he draws upon an illustration from plant life. A plant that is not deeply rooted and does not draw upon a source of water will perish. To him this is the same as a person whose life is not rooted and grounded in the Lord. There's nothing wrong with this doctrine; it's similar to the Lord's parable about the man who built his house upon the sand and the man who built his house on the solid rock. What's wrong here is that Bildad is accusing Job of having forsaken the Lord, something he did not do. "Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water? While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider's web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold. They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its shoots over the garden; it entwines its roots around a pile of rocks and looks for a place among the stones. But when it is torn from its spot, that place disowns it and says, 'I never saw you'. Surely its life withers away, and from the soil other plants grow." (Job 8:11-19)

"Surely God does not reject one who is blameless or strengthen the hands of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Your enemies will be clothed in shame, and the tents of the wicked will be no more." (Job 8:20-22) Bildad concludes his discourse with an unhelpful platitude. Of course God is able to fill the mouths of the godly with laughter. Of course He gives joy to the righteous. But Bildad believes God has rejected Job because he is a sinner, and that is not the case. God has not rejected Job in any way. God loves Job. God has more respect right now for Job than He has for any of Job's friends, as we will learn later on. Bildad is more of an enemy than a friend, though he's completely blind to this. He makes a statement in verse 22 that he probably thinks sounds very spiritual, never dreaming that he is one of those who will be clothed with shame. In Chapter 42 the Lord will declare He is angry with Job's three friends. They will have to repent and make sacrifice. In addition, they will have to accept the fact that the man they have so unjustly maligned is considered more righteous than they. The Lord will humble them for their pride and they will meekly have to allow Job, the man they thought was a sinner, to pray for them.

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