Right Doctrine, Wrongly Applied

Have you ever heard a person say something that, for the most part is totally true, but which you know has some real wrong in it too? This happens when we try to comfort each other, explain mysteries, confront each other, and in a number of other places. If we are not careful, if we are not loving, we will say right things, or mostly right things, in a very wrong way.

In the book of Job, we know that Job’s 3 friends are not helping. The Lord strongly rebukes them for their useless counsel. But take a look at this 6 verse chapter, and think about how much Bildad said that was completely true.

Job 25

1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said:
2 “Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
3 Is there any number to his armies?
Upon whom does his light not arise?
4 How then can man be in the right before God?
How can he who is born of woman be pure?
5 Behold, even the moon is not bright,
and the stars are not pure in his eyes;
6 how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!”

Bildad is talking, and I would suggest that most, if not all, of what he says here is technically true. For sure, he is correct in verses 1-4. Perhaps verses 5 and 6 are problematic, especially in the maggot imagery. But in truth, he, in those two verses, seems to be coming from proper theology. This chapter says that God is high, holy, and mighty. Sin-stained creation is not holy to him. Mankind in our sin cannot be holy to him, not without him granting us a holiness from outside ourselves. For the most part, Bildad is right.

So what is wrong? Bildad is speaking his true theology at a nasty time and with a nasty assumption. In his way, Bildad is arguing with Job. This really is not a good time to argue with Job. The poor man has lost everything and is deeply hurting. Is now really the time to straighten every part of him out? Job is making some mistakes, for sure, and they will be corrected. But maybe Bildad needs to be loving his friend more than fixing him.

IN his nasty assumption, Bildad is assuming that he knows the heart motivation of the Lord. Bildad is assuming that he can say with certainty that the reason that Job is suffering as he is stems from the sinfulness of Job. Bildad is rebuking Job because God is obviously, to Bildad, punishing Job for his sin. And when Job retorts that he has not sinned to earn this punishment, Bildad says that no person is sinless enough not to earn God’s punishment.

The problem with Bildad’s assumption is that, in that assumption, Bildad is wrong. God is not punishing Job for Job’s sinfulness in this experience. In chapters 1 and 2, God points out the righteousness of Job and the narrator of the story tells us that, in those chapters, Job did not sin with his lips. Now, as the argument with his friends progresses, Job does sin, which is why he repents at the end. But Job is not suffering for his own sin. Job is going through a hardship because this is the will of God to the glory of God.

We should recognize, dear Christian friends, that we, like Bildad, can say very true things in very wrong and unhelpful ways. If we apply a theological truth to a situation that we do not understand, we can speak truth and be dead wrong. And if we speak theological truth in a loveless, uncaring, nasty way, we do not honor the Lord. Instead, we do harm to people that we are supposed to love.

I’m not at all suggesting that we not correct those in need of correction. I’m totally for us challenging people when they are in sin or when they preach falsehoods. There are many who claim Christ and who have bought into big lies from the world. We want to stand strong on the word as we challenge those positions. But I would suggest that we begin these conversations with as much love and respect as we can muster. And even if the conversation gets heated on the other side, let us remember to be the people who do not have to lose our cool, because we are the people standing on the word of God.

But when you have a hurting, Christian friend, a friend in deep emotional distress that is obvious, perhaps that is not the best time to drop a theological bomb on them. Be a friend. Be a comfort. When they are able to think with you again, help them straighten out their doctrine. Never belittle the word of God. But also do not crush the hearts of people made in the image of God.

Counsel on Comfort: No Lies for God

As Job found himself confronted by men who ought to be comforting him in his time of pain, his frustration grew. The three supposed friends of Job came to him with settled explanations for why God was allowing Job’s calamity. In general, their answers to Job were logical—you must have sinned, God must want you to repent. The problem is that their reasons were wrong. They did not know what the Lord was doing. And they could not simply say to Job that they did not know.

Job 13:4-7

4 As for you, you whitewash with lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
5 Oh that you would keep silent,
and it would be your wisdom!
6 Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
7 Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?

Job asks a question of these men that caught my attention: “Will you speak falsely for God?” What a horrible thing to consider. Why would anyone speak falsely for God?

But a little consideration helps me see that this is a very real temptation. When we find a situation we do not like, how do we often speak? When we run into a believer who is suffering, what are some of the foolish things that come out of our mouths? Often we think we have something to say that will both comfort the person in pain while showing them that God has nothing to do with the situation. And if we say something like that, we speak falsely, even as we attempt to speak for God.

Let us be very careful with hurting friends. On the one hand, we do not wish to be the blunt, useless, unhelpful counselors that were Job’s friends. We need to weep with those who weep. Sometimes, often times, our best move will be to shut our mouths, put an arm around a friend’s shoulder, and just let them know we are there with them. Quite often it would be better for us not to try to explain to somebody our rationale for what they are going through.

I’ve been at many funerals. I’ve been with many families in hospital rooms. I’ve stood in the line of family members having people walk past us to share their condolences. Let me say to you with all honesty that the least helpful people in all of those lines were the people who thought they had something wise to say. The best words I heard were often, “I’m so sorry,” or even one brave soul, at my dad’s funeral, who simply hugged me and said, “This sucks.”

When we do speak, we need to offer hope in the goodness of God. We need to help people know that the loving and powerful God who made them has not forgotten them. We need to say things that let people know that we care and we are not abandoning them. WE need to let people know that it makes sense why they would hurt in their situation, even if we do not have a perfect explanation for why it is all happening or why now.

But we also need to avoid the dangerous lies of men who let go of true, biblical doctrine in the face of pain. We do not help by speaking falsely of God. WE do not help by telling somebody that God is somehow not in control of bad situations, only of good ones. No, that is empty comfort and speaking falsely for God. We must not deny divine providence when our Shepherd walks us through the valley of the shadow.

Perhaps we would do better being honest with the hurting. We do not know the ways and plans of the Lord. We do not know why some of us go through deep pains. And we will sorrow with the hurting, even as we declare their situation to be genuinely evil, genuinely hurtful, truly something that stinks. At the same time, if we are going to speak honestly, we cannot deny the truth that God is in control, God is still over all, and God is still good. Even when we do not understand his ways because he is greater than us in an infinite capacity, God’s ways are still right and his actions are still good. There is no comfort in pretending that God has lost control, that God was caught unaware, or that God’s hands are tied. There is great comfort in knowing that God is going to do eternal good, even when our lives hurt in the here and now.

Two Thoughts on Comfort and Afflictions

A passage that has always been beautiful to me is the opening of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. There Paul speaks, in that first paragraph after the greeting, of the comfort of God that is ours in affliction. And there Paul reminds us that God comforts us so that we too may comfort others with the comfort we have received.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Let me quickly remind us of one lovely and one hard truth that we should see in this passage. On the lovely side, we have our God comforting us and letting us comfort others with the same comfort we have received. When you hurt, when you struggle through something to the glory of God, when God helps you, one thing you can know is that the comfort he has given you is not yours alone. Your pain, even when it seems to have no purpose, can at least be to testify to the comfort of Christ and to share that comfort with others who are going through similar pains. This is good. It is good to know that our pain is never useless. It is good to know that our comfort is part of how we can be connected to the people of God.

But then there is the harder side of this. If this is beautiful; if it is a good thing that God’s children are comforted by God in their afflictions, the truth must be clear that Christians will face afflictions in which they will need comfort. In short, we will hurt in this life. Being a Christian does not put that to a stop. And we are foolish if we think that being saved is somehow going to be our way out of hardship and pain in the here and now.

The reason that I highlight this harder truth is that I know that, for myself at least, when I hurt, I really want to cry out against it. I want to let God know that he shouldn’t be letting me feel this way. He should not let me go through hardships. After all, I am his child. But the Lord, when we read Scripture with honest and open eyes, shows us that, lives surrendered to him are lives that will walk through pain. After all, how can we rejoice in being comforted in all our affliction’s if the Lord does not allow afflictions to touch us?

Friends, sometimes God is more glorified when he comforts us in times of affliction than when he keeps us from pain. This is a truth that we need to keep alive in our brains so that our hearts are not bewildered when pain comes. But the great news is that, in all afflictions, the Lord does comfort us and give us the ability to use that comfort to proclaim his glory and spread his healing in the church.

The Danger of Comfort

I live in a nation that worships comfort and recreation. I live in a city that makes its fortune off of the wealth of people who worship comfort, recreation, and indulgence. And if I am not careful, I’ll go with the flow and allow my own comfort to lull me to sleep.

That is why reading about God’s judgment in the book of Amos is a very helpful thing for modern folks. Whether you live here in Las Vegas or anywhere else where life is full of comforts, you need to remember that there is a danger to being at ease for too long in this world.

In Amos 6, we find a judgment from God coming to the people of Israel. We see a nation that, for years and years, has been strong and successful. Their success and their comfort has only served to highlight their lack of a heart for God. Their wealth has served to emphasize their rebellion. And the Lord is clear that this is not a good thing.

Amos 6:4-6

4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory

and stretch themselves out on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock

and calves from the midst of the stall,

5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp

and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,

6 who drink wine in bowls

and anoint themselves with the finest oils,

but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

The woes in those verses are woes that could be pronounced on us. The people are lazy and comfortable. They love their music and their wine and their fancy perfumes. But they as a people do not care about the fact that the nation around them is in utter rebellion against the Lord. O, friends, does this not speak to you?

The great danger that comfort presents to us is the danger of numbing us to the reality of the evils in our land. We are in good shape. Our houses are air-conditioned. Our cars are not broken down. Our food supply is abundant. Our phones entertain us more today than our TVs ever could decades previously. And what do we ignore because all this is true? What are we willing to compromise or pretend is not there because we are at our ease in our land?

May we be a people who thank God for the graces and comforts he gives us. No, I do not want to push us toward a legalistic moralism that demands we never watch a movie or enjoy a nice meal. But may we not let that put us to sleep so that we forget about the evils of our land. Our nation is broken and rebellious in so many ways. And we must care. We must cry out for God’s mercy. We must walk toward repentance. We must battle against the kinds of immorality rampant in our land that will bring the judgment of God. We must care about our ruin before it overtakes us.