“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
Job 5:17 (NIV)
As a child I remember seeing life in very simplistic terms. Life circumstances, I believed, stemmed from God’s approval or disapproval of me and my actions. When the Minnesota Vikings lost the Super Bowl each year (They were in four of them during my childhood), the loss could surely be pinned on a curse that was rooted in some wrong I had committed which resulted in God punishing me. If that cute girl I had a crush on just happened to walk down my street as I had desperately wished for her to pass by, then the granting of my wish must have been a sure sign I must be in good standing with my genie-like Almighty.
When I grew up and matured in my understanding, I realized that this simplistic view of suffering and blessing was not only misguided, but completely entirely self-centered. The outcome of the Super Bowl was dependent on me and my spiritual ledger sheet with God?Wow. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a nine year old. Yet that’s what I believed. Each day’s good and bad events were dependent on these big spiritual scales next to God’s throne which constantly weighed my thoughts, words and actions. When the scale tipped towards good then good things happened. When the scale tipped towards bad, then I was in for a really bad day.
In today’s chapter, Job’s friend Eliphaz continues to give the suffering Job a piece of his mind. Eli’s words reveal his core belief, which aligns nicely with my childish, self-centric world view: Suffering is a clear sign of God’s punishment. His counsel for Job streams from the source of that core belief. To Eli, it is very simple. If you do good, then you’ll have abundant blessings that reveal your good standing with God to the world. If you do bad, then you’ll find yourself suffering like you are right now. The conclusion of the matter is simple: repent of whatever it is you did wrong, confess your wrong to God, and God will have compassion and ease your suffering.
My experiences along life’s road and my long sojourn through God’s Message has continued to reveal to me how incongruent this type of thinking is with the heart of God that I find revealed in God’s story. Suffering is not necessarily punishment from the Almighty, but this fallen world’s spiritual proving ground in which eternal character qualities of perseverance, maturity, wisdom, humility, and fortitude are forged. Jesus said to prepare ourselves for suffering, not to be surprised when it happens, and to embrace it when it does. Likewise, material blessing is not necessarily a sure sign of God’s favor, but may very well be a spiritual snare. What we commonly esteem as God’s blessing or favor may simply be the result of wise life and financial choices, but it can also be the result of deep seeded greed and heinous corruption. In fact, Jesus was quick to point out that material “blessing” is a common spiritual stumbling block and repeatedly told us to be wary – even shunning it if it’s getting in the way of our spiritual progress.