Right, But Still Dead Wrong

Sometimes, you can be right about something, and yet still be completely wrong.

When I was a criminal investigator with the Military Police, I had a case involving a Sailor who might have faked his promotion and been receiving extra pay for the past three years. That’s a lot of money. Add to it that your cost of living allowances change depending on your rank, and you’re looking at even more money. This was a good case.

Everything pointed to the conclusion that he had forged paperwork, and somehow gotten it past Personnel. We interviewed the Personnel Officer for several hours, wondering how it could have been done. We had the admin guys calculate a dollar figure. We briefed the Staff Judge Advocate, who began salivating with glee and plotting a general courts-martial. We were just missing the one thing. We needed confirmation from a training school back in Texas that they did not promote the guy.

The school told us, “No, definitely not. But, let us dig around in some file cabinets.”

We waited. We waited some more. The Staff Judge Advocate kept drooling. We interviewed the suspect. He denied everything. Liar, we thought. I told him his lies wouldn’t look good when Texas called back.

This is your only chance for leniency, I warned him. Confess now, and show at least an ounce of integrity. He refused. We cackled to each other, waiting for the death blow, for the phone call from Texas.

It finally came. They had promoted him. Some clerk made an admin error, way back when. They said they were sorry. No case. No courts-martial. Over.

I was right about a lot of things, but I was still wrong. That’s what happened to Job’s friends.

Do We Suffer Because of Our Sin?

Job’s friends assumed he was being punished because he had sinned. They thought:

  1. God is good. He punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous.
  2. God is punishing Job. Just look at the poor guy!
  3. Therefore, Job must be a bad guy. A real sleazebag. A loser.
  4. Therefore, Job is a really wicked guy; he’s just been good at hiding it all this time.
  5. Therefore, if Job would just repent, God would square everything away and stop his misery.

Is their logic really that far off? Isn’t it true, sometimes? Listen to what one of his friends said (Job 22:2-5):

“Can a man be profitable to God?
    Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous,
    or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you,
    and enters into judgment with you?
Is not your wickedness great?
    There is no end to your iniquities.

This seems like rock-solid logic. Does God reprove you because you fear Him? Of course not! Therefore, Job, you must be a very, very wicked man.

His friend continued (Job 22:21-30):

21 “Agree with God, and be at peace;
    thereby good will come to you.
22 Receive instruction from his mouth,
    and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty and humble yourself,
    if you remove unrighteousness far from your tents,
24 if you lay gold in the dust,
    and gold of Ophir among the stones of the torrent bed,
25 and if the Almighty is your gold,
    and your precious silver;
26 then you will delight yourself in the Almighty,
    and lift up your face to God.
27 You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you;
    and you will pay your vows.
28 You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
    and light will shine on your ways.
29 For God abases the proud,
    but he saves the lowly.
30 He delivers the innocent man;
    you will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.”

There is some good stuff here. Important stuff. Some wise principles. That bit about “return to the Almighty and humble yourself” is pure gold. That’s the idea of repentance. But, here’s the thing — Job’s friend was right, but yet he was also wrong.

Why They Were Right

He was right – God does punish and chastise His disobedient children. Solomon knew this (Prov 3:11-12):

11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights.

The writer of Hebrews jotted this down (Heb 12:5b-6), and added some commentary of his own. God disciplines His covenant children for their own good (Heb 12:7-11). After all:

God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Heb 12:7b-8).

If God didn’t discipline His children, it would prove He didn’t love them. But, He does love His children, so He does discipline them. Simple. Got it.

But, what if God has other reasons for making things happen to His children? This is where Job’s friends were wrong.

Why They Were Wrong

You see, Job hadn’t done anything wrong. He kept telling his friends that. They called him a liar. They called him prideful. They invented wicked deeds, and accused him of harboring some dark, sinister sin. They told him God wouldn’t do this without a reason. They told him (Job 4:7-8):

“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
    Or where were the upright cut off?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity
    and sow trouble reap the same.

 Just confess, they told Job. Stop lying!

They were wrong. Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” (Job 1:1). He hadn’t committed some great sin. There were no skeletons in his closet, no secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, no illicit text messages on his smartphone and no incriminating internet browser history. He was just a normal, Godly man.

What’s the Point?

The point is that, sometimes, God makes things happen to people for His own reasons. They’re good and holy reasons, because He’s a good and holy God. He works all things for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). We are clay, and He is the Potter. He can do with us whatever He wants.

You’re right, it was Satan who afflicted Job so much.

You’re right, God allowed Satan to do this. But, is that really all there is to it? Look at what the book says (Job 42:11):

Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house; and they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

When all the layers are stripped away, God brought that upon Job. He had a reason. I can’t solve the “problem of evil” in this short article, but I can at least nudge you towards a deeper understanding of God’s providence. People make free, intelligent and willing decisions – but behind it all, God is working all things according to the council of His good and holy will.

Consider this:

  • The U.S. Navy recently launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
  • On a superficial level, a firecontrolman sitting in the destroyer’s Combat Information Center is the one who launched the strike. He pushed the button. The missiles launched. Boom.
  • Yet, he really isn’t ultimately the one who made it happen. President Trump did.

There are all sorts of caveats I could add, but the point is that God is in control, and sometimes He brings hard times upon His children through no fault of their own, and it’s always for a good and holy reason.

Here are some wise words from the Belgic Confession (1618) about God’s providence (Article 13):

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

God is in charge. If you’ve repented and believed the Good News of Jesus Christ, then rest assured — nothing happens to you without God’s permission and will. He’s a good Father. He’s the best Father. He has a reason. Don’t think He’s abandoned you. He never will. Thank God!

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There are 6 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thanks, Tyler.  This is a very helpful analysis. 

 

G. N. Barkman

Susan R's picture

I've read the book of Job many times, and always wondered why preachers gave Job's friends such a pounding in their sermons, because it seemed to me that it wasn't what they said that was so wrong, but who they said it to. Thanks for confirming my theory!

Job 32:9 Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment.

Aaron Blumer's picture

The dialogs section of Job is mostly about the retribution principle: God punishes the wicked, blesses the righteous. The three friends take the classic, simplistic view (God always... God never...). The younger one who speaks up near the end, modifies that a bit. (Maybe a lot; I'm still not sure I understand him.) Job agrees with parts of what he hears but mostly insists that God owes him a fair trial... but that a fair trial is impossible with such a superior being. So Job mostly buys the retribution principle as well, it seems -- and thinks God has dropped the ball in his case.

In the end, God directly declares the three to be wrong and Job confesses himself to have been wrong. (Job 42:3, 7)

So in the end, the book is an argument against a simplistic view of the retribution principle. In this life, the righteous often suffer, and the wicked often prosper. We cannot judge a person's moral character or conduct by whether they are physically and materially thriving.

But as Tyler points out here, the three friends were right about many things along the way. They offered some factual evidence along the way. But the evidence could not support their "God always... and God never" conclusion.

So the book ends up being about intellectual humility as well.

A real gem in the canon... (among 65 others!)

A favorite line from your article, Tyler...

There are all sorts of caveats I could add, but the point is that God is in control, and sometimes He brings hard times upon His children through no fault of their own, and it’s always for a good and holy reason.

TylerR's picture

I read Job because I thought it'd give me some good perspective as I teach through 1 & 2 Peter during Sunday School. I hadn't read Job for a few years, and the last time I read it was in the KJV. So, I read it in two days. Job is one of those books that you just can't read in bite-sized chunks; you'll lose the entire flow of argument. It was very interesting, because his friends had some really good things to say - their advice just didn't fit the situation.

This would be a really excellent book to go through in Sunday School. You could do one dialogue per week, and the response the week after, repeat, etc. This would make for some really excellent discussion.  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

Sounds like the Navy has a seriously screwed up HR system if they're losing track of promotions and giving extra pay to sailors without proof of their rank!  (and I wonder how much money was spent on the investigation vs. how much he actually got....)

But well said.   One way of phrasing the errors of Job's persecutors/"Friends" is that in their premises, they are confusing "some" and "all", and are also probably reversing the order of the terms in the premises, and finally using unvalid forms (there are 15 Aristotelian forms) to arrive at their conclusion.  

TylerR's picture

Everything turned out right in the end. This was also before service records went completely electronic. Sailors had to hand carry their paper records from one duty station (or school) to the next, when they transferred. If something "got lost" in transit, then, well . . . who would know! The Navy has over 350,000 Sailors. Things happen. All it takes is one mistake by one admin guy at one duty station or school, and the mistake gets compounded exponentially.

But, now that service records are all electronic, these problems are minimized. Of course, there's always the problem of accidently hitting the "delete" key . . . Smile I imagine an enterprising Sailor would be willing to offer $1,000 to a PNSN to delete something for him. Trust me, it's already been tried (and succeeded) somewhere.  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

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