The Real Choice: Affliction Or Sin
May 28, 2019
Since suffering comes to everyone – the faithful and the wicked – it is important to make sure we are dealing with our affliction in godly ways. Though suffering may come to us in various ways throughout our lifespan, the Bible reminds us that there are FAR worse things that can happen! The worst pain and loss we can experience in this life is nothing compared to the pain and loss associated with the anger and wrath of God in eternity. The scriptures provide plenty of testimonies of people that dealt with suffering the right way that pleases God, and the wrong ways that anger God so that we can know the difference. The scriptures show that God will inflict people with suffering and loss throughout life so as to publicly display whether a person has faith or not, thereby validating His final judgment in the end. God exercises His sovereign control to use circumstances that reveal the hidden things of our hearts. According to the Bible, those who yield to God’s chastening with humility and meekness, seeking the Lord for deliverance with lowliness of heart and dependency, if not delivered from the physical circumstances, are certainly delivered from hellfire and assured the promise of His glory. Those who rebel against God’s chastening, despising Him and the manner of His work and authority, will have to pay for the offense they cause against God for all of eternity.
Clearly, the Bible shows that our attitudes during our times of suffering are God’s primary focus. The testimony of Job 36:13-21 shows that God is willing to deliver His people and help in a time of need, but it is our attitudes that often disqualify us from receiving His help. It is not so much that God departs from us, so much as our attitudes build barriers between us and God’s grace, thereby keeping us from His goodness. Our perspective poisons our minds, thereby affecting our souls. When we get stuck on the pain of our circumstances, ignoring the goodness of God in the moment, our hearts can become hardened against God, thus causing offense, and prolonged suffering. According to the testimony of Job 36:13-21, this prolonged suffering can actually follow us into eternity if we don’t recognize God’s warnings and repent of our self-righteousness and self-entitlement.
Recall that the basis of God’s goodness we are supposed to remember during our times of struggle is based on the fact that God is mighty, but does not despise us. Our suffering is a clear indication of our weakness. Whether our suffering be physical, mental, emotional, or all of the above, these issues expose our flaws and our corrupted nature. Thus, it is our trials in life that prove how disqualified we are to dwell in the presence of God’s glory. We should be discarded and eternally separated from He who is holy, pure, righteous, all-powerful, perfectly wise, and omnibenevolent. However, God doesn’t discard us. Though our weakness proves how inglorious we are, God makes Himself available to us in our time of need if we approach Him the right way. God doesn’t respond according to justice at first. He responds to our weakness according to mercy. God doesn’t keep Himself from us during our times of weakness, when corruption makes itself evident. Instead, God offers grace, comfort, and deliverance. However, our attitudes will ultimately determine whether we continue to suffer or receive the benefits of God’s mercy and grace.
Elihu reminded Job that hypocrites do not receive the benefits of God’s mercy and grace. Job’s friends first accused Job of being a hypocrite, and Job spent most of his time emphatically denying that accusation. However, Elihu pointed out that, while Job might not have made hypocrisy a regular practice in his life, he was acting like one at the moment, and therefore, exposing himself to some severe consequences. Elihu reminded Job that it is those who have hypocrisy in their hearts that suffer the wrath of God. Since Job was acting like a hypocrite in the moment, he needed to get hypocrisy out of his heart with repentance, lest he suffer the consequences associated with this common flaw.
Notice that hypocrisy begins in the heart. God does not see as we see – the outward works and performances of people. The Biblical use of the concept of hypocrisy deals with someone who is pretending to be someone that they are not. The essence of it deals with hypercriticism. According to the context of Job, Elihu was warning Job that he was being hypercritical against God because he was pretending to be righteous and deserving of certain treatment from God. This is highly offensive to God. Job had faith, but did not have righteousness of himself. Job knew the Lord and sought Him, but was not a good man by his own merits in God’s economy, earning certain benefits that God was obligated to provide. Job’s bitterness about his circumstances revealed his attitude against God. Job was bitter about his suffering, but only because he felt that God owed him a certain quality of life, and if not that, a quick entrance into the kingdom of heaven when his comforts here had been exhausted. Those who think this way are at great risk.
According to the testimony of Job 36:13-21, someone who has hypocrisy in their heart is someone who refuses to cry out for help from the Lord when the Lord inflicts or permits pain in our lives. Those who trust in their own abilities to escape discomfort are hypocrites in God’s eyes. Those who rely on the coping mechanisms and techniques of the world rather than humble themselves before God, are hypocrites in God’s eyes. Those who pretend like everything is okay, ignoring and denying the purpose of God’s chastening, are hypocrites in the eyes of God. In other words, those who are prideful, self-righteous, and self-entitled, rather than meek and lowly before the Lord, are hypocrites in His eyes, and worthy of God’s judgment, not comfort and deliverance.
Elihu explained how God’s judgment comes against hypocrites. First, they die “in their youth.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that all hypocrites die young, or that all people who die young are hypocrites. It means that hypocrites die in a sudden manner; at a time that they least expect. Since they trust in self to deliver themselves from their pain, when the debt of their sin is due, it is unexpected. They are unaware of the reality of their mortality because they are too consumed with the work required to be their own saviors, convincing others around them that life is manageable and profitable for them. When death comes, it will come at a time and in a manner that is a humbling blow to the self-empowered manner in which they lived. Elihu reminded Job that the lives of hypocrites end in the presence of perverted persons. The original language describes people that worked as cult and temple prostitutes – that is, the most vile and offensive abominations in the eyes of God. Those who let hypocrisy reside in their hearts will not be connected to God’s people, but the most prideful that the world has to offer, until when they die, they are sent to the inferno of hell where the devil and his angels will be. Those whose hearts are fixated on self-righteousness will forever be with the self-righteous, not God.
It is the poor who are delivered from the trials of life with God’s comfort, encouragement and mercy. Jesus explained that the poor of heart are blessed and promised that they will be comforted. The poor in heart refers to those who yield to God’s sovereign control, recognizing that our suffering is a direct response of His omnipotent hand, for some purpose according to His wisdom, intended to produce a good effect in us and glory for His name. This person doesn’t make complaining and grumbling a habit. When this person hurts and lets that hurt produce whining, they recognize their error by the convictions of God and confess their sin rather than try to justify why they don’t deserve pain and discomfort. The poor cry to help from God with an attitude of humility, recognizing that we deserve worse than our physical, mental, and emotional pain. The poor recognizes that we deserve hell, and appreciate the truth of scriptures that assure us that God chastens those whom He loves. Elihu reminded Job that it is those who respond to trials this way that receive God’s deliverance and mercy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that God will take all humble people out of trouble. It means that God will provide the necessary comfort, encouragement, strength, and perseverance to get through it unto His glory and our spiritual profit.
Elihu had to give Job some tough news. If Job would have humbled himself before God rather than trying to justify why he didn’t deserve to suffer as much as he did, he wouldn’t have had to suffer as much. At first, Job’s suffering was to refine Job’s faith. God sought to use Job as a tool to reveal His own wisdom, righteousness, and power to deliver His people from the intense evil of the devil. However, Job, not focusing on the goodness of God, allowed self-righteousness to consume his heart. The suffering that God intended to be for one purpose, was extended to accomplish another purpose. Since Job wouldn’t learn the lesson that God sought to teach, God kept Job stunted in his learning. God won’t let us move onto the next lesson if we don’t learn the first one. Thus, when we refuse to humble ourselves in the midst of a lesson that God teaches through our trials, the trials will continue and God’s help will seem all the more distant. The length of our suffering can often be attributed to our refusal of God and His purposes, not God’s indifference or neglect.
Elihu reminded Job that God’s aim is to bring His people to a broad place, not a place of intense pressure where the walls are closing in on us. God wants us to prosper in His goodness, His mercy, His grace, and His love so that we bear the fruit of His spirit, enjoying the satisfaction of being used as an instrument of His righteousness by encouraging the salvation of others. He doesn’t want us to be destitute, miserable, lonely, empty, and hopeless. Job wasn’t getting the benefits that God wanted to give and felt disconnected from God because of the way he handled his trials. God resists the proud. Though Job thought he was speaking truthfully about God and seeking God, his heart was proud against God, and so there was an ever-growing gap between the benefits of God’s goodness and Job’s spirit.
This is why Elihu reminded Job of the truth. Whether Job felt he was innocent of hypocrisy or not, his recent conduct and attitude against God showed that he was certainly acting like a hypocrite. Job wasn’t receiving the benefits of God’s goodness, which proved that his heart was wrong. Job’s suffering wasn’t evidence against him. It was the fact that Job testified that he felt distant from God and that God’s comfort was elusive from him. That was the sign of Job’s guilt. God’s approval isn’t always manifested through the removal of circumstances, but through the comfort He brings during the pain. Job didn’t have that comfort, showing that he was indeed disconnected from God at the time. Those disconnected from God at any time are at risk!
As a result, Elihu reminded Job that he needed to repent. No amount of money, friendly help, counsel, therapy, medicine, or distraction can keep those who harbor hypocrisy in their hearts from the judgment of God. Job desired to die so as to escape the difficulties of his suffering, assuming that he would immediately be in the presence of God. Elihu warned Job not to be so confident. The darkness of night or death cannot hide the hypocrisy of the heart from God. Therefore, if hypocrisy is not dealt with by humble confession and repentance, the hypocrisy that remains in the heart at death, will be dealt with in an eternal manner. If Job thought his suffering was bad then, unwillingness to repent would ensure Job’s suffering lasted forever.
Elihu then made a profound statement that applies to all people because all people suffer in some way. Job had made a choice about how to deal with his trouble. He chose iniquity rather than affliction. In other words, if we trust that God exercises His sovereign control to use affliction to refine us into His image, Job decided he wanted to respond contrary to God’s nature in that affliction, rather than receive the spiritual benefits God intends through that affliction. We’re all going to suffer to some degree. God will provide help, comfort, and strength to endure that suffering so that it produces a spiritual benefit – not necessarily a circumstantial one. If our attitudes are not submissive to God’s spiritual purposes, then we by nature, express pride, self-righteousness, self-entitlement, self-empowerment, and hypocrisy. If we reject suffering with bitterness and spite, despising the pain of it because we feel entitled to something better, God see our hypocrisy and deal with it according to His righteousness.
Just because Job had faith at one point didn’t mean that he was exempt from hypocrisy later. God exercised His sovereign control to prove that none are righteous. Even Job, a blameless and upright man, was responding towards God’s good work as a hypocrite that despised God, in danger of eternal punishment! If not for God’s intercession, using Elihu as His messenger of truth, Job might have fallen victim to his own nature. The pain in his life caused him to desire complaining, bitterness, and entitlement to fill his heart. Job despised the affliction, and by extension, the purpose of it. By despising the purpose, Job despised the hand of God that caused it, the wisdom of God that concocted it, and the goodness of God that conceived it. Our faith at one point in life doesn’t guarantee that we will never respond this way against God. Since suffering is bound to come into our lives, if it hasn’t set up camp in our lives now, we need to be sure we are seeing the goodness of God behind the pain, lest we suffer the effects of disconnection from God now, and maybe later.