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February 20 lesson: Bildad Misspeaks/God’s Justice

February 13, 2022
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Bildad Misspeaks/God’s Justice

Winter Quarter: Justice, Law, History
Unit 3: Justice and Adversity

Sunday school lesson for the week of February 20, 2022
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard


Background Scripture: Job 8
Key Scripture (NIV): “Bildad the Shuhite replied: ‘How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind.’” Job 8:1-2

Lesson Aims
  1. To better understand the background of Job and the book of Job.
  2. To recognize the theological issue being debated: the Retribution Principle.
  3. To relate as much as possible to Bildad’s reason for arguing and Job’s reason for defending.
  4. To recognize the importance of the question, “Why do good people suffer?”
  5. To embrace the need for humility and the acceptance of mystery as a part of our faith and trust in God.
Introduction

The Theological Premise of Job

Once again, we encounter the “Retribution Principle” of the Old Testament. This one principle reveals the manner in which the Old Testament and New Testament Jewish people understood God’s dealings with men and women. The principle is rather easy to understand. If one lived in obedience to God, their life was blessed. Thus, people who were healthy, wealthy, and fortunate were perceived as blessed by God. However, those who suffered from poor health, poverty, and calamity were cursed. This belief served as a theological principle from the earliest people in the Old Testament and into Jesus’ day.

Jesus encountered this belief constantly in his ministry. Some of the major proponents of this belief were his own disciples. We might recall in John 9:1-12 that the disciples questioned Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In Mark 10:17-27, the rich young ruler interacts with Jesus. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him to sell his possessions and give them to the poor. The young man leaves Jesus grieving. However, it is the question of the disciples in Mark’s narrative that proves most interesting regarding the Retribution Principle: “Then who can be saved?” In the eyes of the disciples this man is rich because he has the favor of God. Yet, Jesus does not recognize this belief and the disciples are stunned. Jesus’ entire ministry unraveled this principle. One of the major reasons the disciples, especially Peter, struggled to accept Jesus’ death on a cross is because Jesus was good, and good people are blessed of God. They do not die on crosses! This principle was embraced in early biblical history and continued until Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection revealed its falsehood. This is the belief we encounter in the ancient book of Job.

In the judgment of his friends, Job’s suffering had to be the consequence of his sin against God. The book of Job opens with the assertion that Job was a good and righteous man. The book even introduces Job as a blessed man of great wealth with a large family. In the introduction he is indeed a blessed man. However, his ensuing suffering calls into question the validity of the Retribution Principle as it applies to Job. It also interrogates us with the question, “Are we knowledgeable and wise enough to state with certainty how God always acts?”

The Style and Substance of the Book of Job as Biblical Literature

Many interpret Job as a historical account of a real character. Many believe Job was an early prophet. Some scholars believe he lived in the patriarchal period of Abraham. In other words, it is the story of a real man named Job. We are even presented with a genealogy of Job. However, difficulty is encountered as we read of God’s agreement with Satan. It is a theological struggle for us to read of God placing a man like Job at risk to prove a point to Satan. After all, God is God, and doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone! Since a theological question is presented in the opening of the book and continues throughout, we cannot say it is intended to be a strictly historical book. It is an interpreted history; in particular, it is the theologically interpreted history of a real man named Job.

Many fail to realize that in Old Testament literature, when the author desired to reveal an inspired truth about God and God’s dealing with humankind, they would use allegories. In the allegories they often used very real, historical people. Job was most likely a real man who suffered tremendous difficulties. However, in the end he endured and flourished. His life serves as an allegory for the author to relay an important truth to coming generations. Consequently, Job is a Spirit-inspired prosaic saga about a real man whose life is employed to create a teachable lesson on suffering and blessing.

Job’s location in the Old Testament canon is also an important factor in understanding the nature of the book. This book was placed by our ancestors in the faith in the section of “poetry and prose.” The book of Job opens the section containing the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. The ensuing three books were never intended to be “historical books.” They were books of Spirit-inspired songs, poems, and prose. Job is located within this genre.

Whatever our understanding of the type of book Job is, we cannot escape the reality of its inspiration and the theological question it addresses. Job is an ancient book that deals with an existential question with which we continue to wrestle to this day. Why do good people suffer? For the faith community in particular it asks, “Why do godly people suffer?”

The Date of the Book

We do not have an exact date for the writing of this book, nor are we allowed to know its author. However, there is strong indication that Job is among the oldest books in the Bible. Some believe it is the oldest. As a character, Job would predate the Mosaic Law. That is, he, like Abraham, was a man who feared God. He possessed a well-developed sense of righteousness. Had Job not been a man of strong moral character, we would have no book of Job. After all, this is the story of Job’s determined refusal to blame God for his suffering. Job also refuses to lay the blame at his own feet, believing he had done nothing wrong to merit such suffering. The book of Job, like Genesis, reveals that God indeed has a relationship with humankind. The sin that drove us from Eden could not hinder or stop God’s concern and love for us. Consequently, God is interacting with Job and the people of Job’s day.

Our text is best understood as a theological debate between Bildad and Job. We will examine the context of the conversation; that is, to understand the issues leading to their conversation. Secondly, we will examine the debate itself. However, we are only given Bildad’s argument in this lesson. However, we know Job’s state of mind as he’s listening to Bildad from Job’s statements in other sections of the book.

How do you handle the tension between faith and doubt in a healthy manner? What do you perceive as the danger in holding tightly to a belief that has genuinely been called into question? Did Jesus call into question the belief that righteous people are always blessed and unrighteous people always cursed? Can you offer examples from Jesus in the Gospels? What is the danger in having little or no certainty? What is the danger in believing with such certainty that there is no entertaining a different view? What do you believe is a healthy, Christ-like response to those moments in life which call our belief into question?

The Text

The Theological Context of Bildad and Job’s Conversation

As mentioned above, this book was written to express humanity’s struggle with one of the great questions of life: Why do good people suffer? Naturally, the question of why those perceived as bad prosper in life arises. Job not only possessed an understanding of righteousness, Bildad did as well, along with Job’s other two friends. How could they accuse Job of sinning if there existed no understanding of sin prior to Mosaic Law? As stated in other lessons, the Hebrew people were not lawless prior to the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law. Societal and cultural laws existed. However, there also existed a person’s inner, moral life. From the beginning we had a conscience. Remember, right action versus wrong action existed in the story of Adam and Eve. Job and his friends knew the essence of a righteous life.

The struggle in the book arises when Job’s friends are convinced his personal sin has led to the destructive and painful events in his life. This, again, is an early expression of the Retribution Principle. The book consists of a theological debate over this principle. Job most likely believes God blesses those who are good and those who are disobedient are cursed, as did his friends. However, Job cannot determine the nature of his sin. In his mind, he had done nothing wrong to merit his painful existence.

If Job indeed had done nothing to suffer his calamities, then the theology of Job and his friends begins to teeter and quake. An innocent Job means that a good man is actually suffering and they can offer no good reason for it! In other words, if a good man is suffering, how are they to understand the issues of righteousness and sin, reward and punishment? Many of us have met individuals who cling mightily to questionable theological beliefs. Perhaps we have done so as well. One of the reasons we might fight for our belief is because, in our understanding of Scripture, it is true. However, some fight for a belief because if it proves untrue, their theological structure is shaken. Questions arise when our “certainty” quakes for which we have no answers.

Certainly, faith means trusting and clinging to what we know is true. However, we must remember we are always seekers of truth, both secular and spiritual truth. Should a belief come into question, we must be unafraid to prayerfully entertain the need for change. If change isn’t needed, we will believe even more strongly and understand more deeply why we believe something to be true. If our belief was unfounded, we can grow in greater faith and understanding.

In the earliest years of my Christian faith, I belonged to a renewal movement that believed in faith healing. If one had enough faith, God would heal all of our illnesses. One of our most respected members died of cancer. Prayers of faith had been offered, along with the expectation that God would therefore certainly heal him. Again, he died. When I attended the next meeting, I was eager for an explanation. We never received one. Instead, the group continued to believe real faith always resulted in healing. Life had called this belief into question. We faced two choices. First, we could believe our dear brother just didn’t have enough faith, leaving our belief system intact. I personally could not adhere to this explanation. He was as good and faithful a man as I had known. Secondly, we could accept that what was believed may not have been exactly correct. Does God heal? Certainly! On every occasion? No. From that moment onward I began a search for light and understanding. I am certain others did as well. Today, 50 years later, I stand at a much different place theologically.

I can imagine myself in that meeting again. However, instead of faith healing, the belief is: Good people are blessed and do not suffer. My good brother Job has suffered terribly. I am seeking an answer as to what happened. Either something is wrong with Job or with our belief in reward and punishment. In the book of Job, we are sitting in on such a meeting. We are listening to the dialogue and debate. On one side of the debate are Job’s three friends. They believe so strongly in the Retribution Principle that they can only conclude Job isn’t perfectly righteous at all or he would not suffer; he has sinned! And, they believe this with certainty. On the other side is Job, who is arguing that there has to be another explanation, for he’s done nothing wrong. Again, our text only includes Bildad’s argument. Still, we know Job’s theological state of mind while listening to Bildad from the preceding and ensuing chapters.

Can you share a belief or beliefs that were shaken in your life? Were you able to embrace them more strongly after walking through the shaking? Did you alter your belief? What did you learn from the struggle? Read Mark 8:31-33. Jesus and Peter are in conversation about his coming crucifixion. What is Peter’s belief, and how strongly does he believe it? How is Jesus calling that belief into question? What does this particular interaction between Peter and Jesus teach us about certainty and openness?

The Conversation

In chapters 6-7, Job has offered a defense against the accusation of his friends. Job admits his suffering. He even expresses the anguish and pain the suffering inflicts. Job admits he cannot help himself to rise from the pain. He is obviously overwhelmed. However, he refuses to relinquish his faith in God and his own righteousness. Job’s belief in his own righteousness in this case is not arrogance. His behaviors do not violate the moral code in which he believes. Therefore, to accept that he has done something wrong when his experiences tells him he hasn’t is confusing to Job. Even when Job feels God has abandoned him, he refuses to lose faith. He has looked to his friends in futility to help him in his seemingly helpless plight. In Job 6:14 we read:

“A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams. . .”

Job is saying, “Even if I had forsaken my fear of God, (which he believes he hasn’t) my friends should be an encouragement to me.” Yet, it is obvious Job believes his friends are of little help. However, his friends are not asking Job to abandon his faith in God. They are asking that he confess the sins that cause his suffering. After all, in their thinking, only sin could cause such calamity. Job’s friends are waiting for Job to believe God is his punisher, and for good reason; they believe Job is a sinner.

Bildad’s argument is interesting. How dare Job believe he is the exeption to the rule! His logic is simple: 1. God punishes those who are unrighteous and sinful. 2. You, Job are suffering. 3. Therefore, you have sinned against God. Bildad thinks, “How dare you deny what we know to be true!” He understands Job’s defense as little more than “hot air (blustering wind).”

Bildad should not be condemned for his belief. It is a belief derived from what he has observed and understood up to that moment. If anything, he should be confronted for his refusal to open himself to new light and understanding. Like most of us, Bildad bases his theological premise of suffering on his experience and observation. It is true; men and women do reap what they sow most of the time. He even uses the death of Job’s children to bolster his argument. Bildad informed Job that his children died because of their sin. Can Job not see he too is suffering, and nearing death for the same reason? What painful, harsh words! Yet, the gloves are off in this theological argument and Bildad is determined to strike a blow for his belief. Most people are passionate regarding their beliefs. Many of us are familiar with the warning not to discuss politics and religion at family gatherings. Few discussions can become more passionate, heated, and divisive. Bildad is just as passionate.

Bildad also appeals to the teachings and experiences of their ancestors. They, too, believed the unrighteous suffer, and this belief is grounded, again, in their experiences and learnings. Bildad is putting Job in a difficult spot. Not only is Job refusing to accept the words of his friends and what should be obvious from his own experiences, he is refusing the teachings and experiences of all who came before. Bildad has offered strong arguments for his case.

However, Bildad refuses to examine the exceptions to the rule of sowing and reaping. Again, if he allows himself to entertain the thought that good people might indeed suffer, he must reconstruct his theological house. Change is almost always frightening and stressful, especially when we alter our system of belief. We construct our lives around what we believe, as we should. If a part of our belief system is altered, we feel vulnerable. It means instead of defending we should begin seeking and understanding. Of course, such seeking always leads to a more enlightened, meaningful relationship with the Lord. In our life, untruth should be shed that clearer, beautiful truth might emerge. Shadow must constantly give way to God’s light.

Certainly, Job’s argument has not yet offered Bildad clarity regarding human suffering. Bildad isn’t certain good people can suffer because he isn’t yet certain Job is a good man. He is challenging Job’s belief in himself. If he is a good man and his suffering is not the result of his sin, then let Job arise from the suffering. Let God reward a good Job! Verse 6 reads: “If you are pure and upright, even now he (God) will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place.” Bildad seems to be imploring Job to accept the truth of his unrighteousness that Job can begin anew with God. Still, Bildad is attempting to make Job face his sin. He is arguing that if Job is correct, then God would naturally remove the pain and allow Job to prosper again.

How do you think Job is feeling in light of Bildad’s assertion? What would be your defense? Why would it be your defense? Have you ever had to defend your beliefs? Were you certain of your position? Can you share a specific experience when you were confronted with something you knew to be untrue? Did you handle the moment as lovingly and kindly as possible, yet with strength? What was the result?

Summation of the Conversation

Our lesson remains incomplete. We must read the entire book of Job, with all of its give and take, with all back and forth, to more fully mine the spiritual wealth in this book. As we will realize in next week’s lesson, the great question of suffering remains unanswered. We still struggle to understand the suffering of the innocent and the property of the self-serving. We are left to realize that we cannot yet understand all God is doing and why God is doing it! Mystery does exist in our faith. We were not there “when he laid the foundation of the earth.” Choosing to acknowledge mystery is NOT a lack of faith. Faith isn’t always about certainty. It is also about trust. We trust our loving God, revealed in Jesus, with the unanswered questions of life.

One of the great errors we often make is to believe “God owes us all answers.” God doesn’t owe us anything! We owe God everything! There will come a day when we see clearly. Paul wrote in I Cor. 13 that “Now we see through a glass dimly, but then, we shall see face to face.”

So what is our response? First, we must always be open to the truth that appears in the “exceptions.” Often in life our beliefs are shaken. These are moments that can lead to renewal and stronger faith. They are also moments that can lead to constructive, Christ-like change. We must be open. If I believe I know all of the answers, then I am announcing my journey in faith, in discovering God’s truth is over. This is that moment, in the words of the Proverb, “A haughty spirit goeth before a fall” Proverbs 16:18.

Secondly, we must be humble. God’s ways are always higher than our own. God’s purposes are often beyond the understanding of men and women. Every generation has encountered “truth yet to be understood.” We can only trust, yet, trusting is everything. The gift of Jesus serves as the foundation of our trust. Jesus reveals God is love, and that all of life is moving toward redemption and eternal life. Therefore, even if we do not understand what is occurring in life, we can know who is in control. We can know that the One in control is loving, and life is always leading toward goodness.

It requires humility to admit we do not know everything. I taught Old and New Testament at a college for three years. I began every class by saying, “I am going to write on the white board the greatest thing I’ve learned to say.” I would turn and write, “I don’t know.” It is permissible to know what we can know at the time. There will always be a degree of mystery in our faith. It is this mystery that drives us to our knees in seeking.

Do you think we are a people who believe God owes us answers? How do you think many people handle the unknown and mystery in faith? How do we handle such mystery? Why do you think mystery frightens us? What do you believe is the one truth that overcomes this fear? Can you share a specific moment in life when the answer to the struggle remained elusive? Can you share your response?

Prayer

Almighty God, you are omnipresent and omniscient. Your ways are always higher than our own. Grant us the humility to accept the unknown as a gift. Grant us patience to wait for the light to come. Give us strength to cling to what we know, and open hearts and minds to what we do not. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at craigrikard169@yahoo.com.

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