At first, it seemed like a bad case of the flu, but then his joints became painfully inflamed. The culprit was rheumatoid arthritis.
People from church came over and prayed for him. He went to a big tent revival-style healing meeting and got prayer there, too.
As time went on and my father was not healed of arthritis, the folks at church began to wonder what sin he must have committed to deserve such punishment.
At that point, my mother remarked, “Our friends are like Job’s comforters!”
God has given human beings the gift of a brilliant mind. He has also revealed a great deal about himself to us in his Word.
That said, we must always leave room for mystery when it comes to the ways of God. He is too big for us to fully comprehend. His ways cannot be reduced to surefire formulas.
Out of humility, we must admit that our personal theological understanding is probably limited and/or flawed in some way. Otherwise, if we insist that our theology is one hundred percent correct, we will likely end up hurting others.
The folks at my childhood church ascribed to what theologians call retribution theology, which means you reap what you sow. Live righteously, and things will go well; commit sin and you will suffer.
This principle is based on the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 and is reinforced in the New Testament as well (Gal. 6:7, 1 Peter 3:12).
However, retribution theology is a general moral principle of how God administers justice. It is not a black-and-white rule applicable to every case.
Job’s case was unique. He needed comfort and compassion, not preaching. His case illustrates how we need to leave room for mystery when it comes to God’s ways.
In Encountering the Old Testament, authors Bill Arnold and Bryan Beyer describe the dynamics this way: imagine drawing a triangle with God at the top, Job the upright, suffering man in the bottom left corner, and the doctrine of retribution in the bottom right corner.
All three ideas are held simultaneously by the book of Job, yet something has to give. One of the cherished ideals has to go, because the suffering of a righteous man causes them to conflict with one another.
Job’s friends cancel out Job and hold onto God and their theology. Job himself holds onto the same theology and questions God.
What does God do?
He cancels out their flawed and limited theological understanding!
No doubt you’ve encountered people who are dead certain their theology is correct. The issue isn’t always retribution theology; it could be something else in that triangle corner.
For example, some folks are confident that if you follow certain steps, God will release prosperity and good health to you. You just need to believe and speak the right things.
Therefore, if you are sick or encounter financial difficulty, you must not be exercising faith..
I agree that what we believe and what we speak matters, because we are made in God’s image and this gives our words power. However, here again, the general principle may not apply in every case at every time.
Scripture offers principles, but it also encourages us to humbly acknowledge mystery.
The book of Proverbs is full of wise, general principles which usually hold true. However, God also gave us the book of Ecclesiastes, which highlights the truth that life doesn’t always make sense.
Next time you encounter a struggling person, think twice before preaching your theology at them.
You might not be one hundred percent correct.