Happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty. For He wounds, but He binds up; He smites, but His hands heal. Job 5:17-18
In 2006 former Vice President Al Gore, and other prophets of doom, made a movie called: An Inconvenient Truth. Whatever the film’s merits or demerits might be, the fact is that all truth is inconvenient. Inconvenient because the “father of lies” has injected us with his poison so that we always prefer wispy white lies to the harsh realities of human existence.
As inconvenient truths go one of the most bothersome is the fact that righteous people must suffer. We don’t like that! It rubs us the wrong way and sets our teeth on edge! And yet it is a foundational teaching of the Christian faith that no one is exempt from suffering, especially God’s people.
We discover this in spades when we read the book of Job. The first thing we learn in it is that Job was a righteous man, not because he was sinless but because God declared him to be so. Like every other sinner ever redeemed Job was justified by faith; faith in the coming Savior whom God promised to send as the atonement for the sins of the world. But Job’s righteousness was not merely a charade or a fiction any more than ours is. The book demonstrates, instead, that his faith was active in love. It informs us that he was a good, honest and industrious man who amassed a great fortune. But unlike so many who are corrupted by wealth, Job was not. Instead he was a humble, pious and learned man whose wise counsel was surpassed only by his generosity, and no one who ever met him was worse off for the experience, but there is more to Job than meets the eye: he was also a walking, talking prophecy of the promised Savior, who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. Though Job was righteous in every way, and though no bad thing could be said against him, we read in chapter one that he is falsely accused by satan, and subsequently made to suffer more than any man who ever lived. In this respect he reminds us of Jesus, and what He suffered to redeem us from sin.
Though Job was righteous by faith, Jesus who is God incarnate, was truly and essentially righteous in and of Himself, but though He was upright, He also suffered. He too descended from the heights of heaven to the depths of degradation. He too was attacked by satan, falsely accused, treated like a criminal and saddled with the sins of the world, but unlike Job, whose life was protected by God, our Lord’s was not. Instead, He made the ultimate sacrifice and died a protracted and humiliating death, but one with a purpose! We learn from holy Scripture that His was a substitutionary death, a vicarious atonement, endured “for us men and for our salvation.” By it He brought a decisive conclusion to the guilt and condemnation that our sins incur; and to all the agony, misery and affliction that our iniquities visit upon us. He averted the wrath that was due us and reconciled us to God. He is our Peace, our Righteousness and our Advocate with the Father, who intercedes for us and who will return in glory, a glory He will share with us in a world without end. It is this very pleasant and congenial truth that upholds us through all that we must suffer as Christ’s holy people.
Like Job, we, too, are made righteous by Christ’s sacrifice and pronounced “forgiven” by faith, but even though we are Righteous we too must suffer. However what is vital for us to remember and to believe with all our strength is that suffering for the Christian is never punishment. Though we may be afflicted by illness, injustice, temptation and one piece of bad news after another as Job was, we can be confident that the things we suffer are nothing more, and nothing less than fatherly correction, because Scripture states that: whom the Lord loves He chastens.
There is a difference between punishment and correction. The purpose of punishment is retribution, to pay a person back for what he has done to you, to make him suffer and to even the score. There is no need for this because Jesus was punished for our sins, and paid their dreadful price in full on the cross. Correction, on the other hand, has as its end very different purposes, ones which we as God’s children cannot do without. Suffering stops our Flesh in its tracks as it merrily skips along the broad and easy path to destruction. It teaches us that a self-directed life is not the way forward, but a God directed life is. This is why Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves, take up whatever crosses life lays upon us, and follow Him. To where? To Calvary, of course; to the death and burial of our self-serving sins, and the resurrection of the New Man which serves God in righteousness and purity forever. The problem with Flesh is that it expects life to be one, long, happy, uninterrupted party. A good time had by all. It doesn’t want to be restrained in any way, by any person, least of all God, and only affliction can rein it in. Correction also helps us turn from the earthly props that we normally look to for comfort, and to do what St. Paul admonishes in Colossians chapter three, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
This is what Job finally learned by his many afflictions: that bad things happen to good people, that the righteous must suffer, and that we should not despise the correction that God gives us. Instead we should count it as a sign of fatherly divine goodness and mercy; and never forget in the process that the same dear Father who wounds us will also make us whole, and that He who smites us in love will also heal us, in glory, in Christ. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras