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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Health, Wealth, and Prosperity

Zophar describes the life and death of the wicked and his words are true. He goes wrong, however, when he assumes that Job must be wicked or he wouldn't suffer so.  Job responds by asking the age-old question, "Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?" (Job 21:7) Job has lost his great house, his great possessions, and his great family. In his heart of hearts, he knows that he trusts in the substitutional death of the innocent Who atones for the sin of sinners, yet he struggles with why God would allow the righteous to suffer. 

Job looks at the wicked in their prosperity and comes to a conclusion: Rather have suffering and know God than to prosper, as if this life is all that there is, and not know God at all, "Yet they say to God, 'Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him'" (Job21:14-15)?

Prosperity is over-estimated. To live one's entire life collecting things and stuff and never knowing God is more than sad; it is tragic. Prosperity is a cushion whose comfort prevents many from feeling the pain of sin and the need for redemption. Religion often lays its head on that cushion. Both prosperity and religion prevent men from realizing alienation from God and trap men into living for now and ignoring eternity. 

Job looks at both ends of the spectrum. He describes the one who dies "in full vigor; completely secure and at ease" and the one who dies "in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good" and concludes that they are no different from one another. Both lay "side by side" in death. Both miss knowing God. Impoverishment of soul comes to both. It is a terrible shame to live and die in prosperity and not know God and to live and die in poverty and not know Him either. 

Wicked men do prosper, but prosperity, in and of itself, is not a reliable gauge of whether a man is righteous before God. Righteous men do suffer, but suffering, in and of itself, is not a reliable gauge of whether a man is righteous before God. 

Job's friends warn us that man cannot assess accurately a man's spiritual state by his possession of health and wealth, religion, or lack thereof. 

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The Whine of Suffering

"Then know that God has wronged me and drawn His net around me" (Job 19:6)

Suffering reveals cracks in the foundation of Job's understanding of God. Because he had never been tested to this degree before these cracks of flawed thinking had never been exposed. Through the pressures of unrelenting pain, undeserved criticism, and unimaginable loss Job thinks thoughts unworthy of God and falsely accuses God of wronging him.

How often do believers sound just like Job! The minute a plan falls apart, someone becomes ill, or we suffer a financial reversal words escape our lips-words of blame --words unworthy of our God. (Who knew that we were capable of such bitter anger toward God?) Like spoiled children we stomp our feet and call God to action. When He doesn't march to the beat of our drum we desert our faith in Him.

Recently a friend relayed a difficult experience that nearly wrecked her faith in God. For some what she went through wouldn't have been faith-wrecking, but for her this experience pushed her to the limits of faith in God. What she learned about herself and about God through this trial could not have been learned any other way.

Years ago a difficult struggle with persistent doubt brought me to the breaking point where I had to cling to what I knew was true about God. I questioned God's love for me. I questioned whether I was His child, whether I had really experienced the new birth. This unrelenting struggle lasted for nearly a decade. What I learned about myself and God could never have been learned from reading a book. I needed to go through that experience (and many other difficulties) not only for my personal growth but to enable me to assist others in their spiritual journey.

The New Testament contains a single reference to Job: "Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11). The intended end. Job didn't have a clue until the end, nor do we. When we don't understand the purpose of suffering we are reduced to simply trusting God. And, that's good. He really is good and only does good (Psalm 119:68a).
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Job 19:1-21:34
  • How does Job describe God?
  • How has suffering changed Job's relationship with friends and family?
  • What does Job hold onto to keep from drowning in despair?
  • Why is Zophar's description of the wicked incorrect?
  • What accusation does Zophar make about Job's wealth?
  • How does Job describe how he and his wealth differs from the wicked and their wealth?
  • How does Job describe Zophar's argument?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to reveal cracks/flaws in your view of Him.