Rewards and Punishments
Almighty God, today I look to You to guide my thinking, unravel my difficulties and empower my decisions.
Read Job 4:1-21
Scripture taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Reflect before God on how life has treated you. Has it been fair?
Some readers will remember the song in the musical, “The Sound of Music,” where Maria responds to the Count’s love by suggesting, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good.” She believed her goodness had merited a reward. Eliphaz would agree with her. He takes the traditional line that because God is in control and is just and fair, he therefore always rewards the righteous and punishes the sinner. So if Job is suffering it is because he must have sinned.
This law of retribution is theologically correct at one level. The prophets, for example, urged Israel to escape God’s judgment through repentance. But Eliphaz’s theory does not hold good for Job because, as we know from chapters 1 and 2, he has not sinned. He is an innocent sufferer. Eliphaz’s fundamental question, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished” (7), rings out down the centuries and finds its fullest answer in the cross (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus himself discouraged retributive thinking in his disciples (Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3; though compare John 5:14). Yet many today still ask, “What have I done to deserve this?”
Eliphaz’s theology does not fit the real world, nor is it pastorally helpful! He begins well, with words of encouragement (1-4), but verse 5 shows him to be surprisingly unfeeling–and once he gets a bee in his bonnet, things go from bad to worse. How careful we need to be in sharing apparent words of knowledge with other people (12-17), especially with those who are in deep trouble. Apart from the possibility that, as in Eliphaz’s case, we might be wrong, is this best pastoral practice? Indeed, how much should our words feature in such an encounter? One problem common to all three of Job’s friends is that they are not good listeners. Most of us are better at promulgating our theories than really listening.
Train yourself to be a better listener. Practice reflecting back to a friend what they have said to you.
Lord, let Your love flow through me during the interactions of today. I ask for a tender heart, a listening ear and words of wisdom.