Tuesday, March 26, 2013

preaching a graceless guilt

But oh, that God would speak and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
Job 11:5-6

Zophar's words to Job contain no comfort, only incomplete theology and this dark accusation that all of Job's sufferings do not add up to the punishments that his sins deserve. That may make for fiery fundamentalism, but it does virtually nothing to care for Job in any real fashion. It shows me that theology alone does not a good counselor make.

The real surprise in Job's story is the fact that godly friends with sound doctrine could not bring comfort to their suffering friend. They believed the truth (for the most part) but could not get past their locked down theology of suffering. They limited God's sovereign use of pain to just punishment over sin. They missed God's mercies as part of the equation. And this lopsided theology served to only further Job's torment.

Zophar dismisses the depth of Job's pain and in the process makes God out to be a punishing brute. He assumed that an omniscient God only doled out pain in order to punish sin. And he thought that God exacted suffering from mankind in proportion to their offenses. Since humans are born horribly twisted by sin, it is our lot to suffer intensely. By this reasoning, Job had it easy. God had only recently brought the hammer of justice down on his head. Zophar's twisted view would have Job be grateful for all his losses since he deserved so much worse.

We should always be careful about attributing to people a guilt that only God can know. We can lead people to consider their sins, but it is the role of the Spirit of God in the conscience of a man to convict him of sin. To presume to act as if we can do so is to go far beyond our human understanding. I can preach the guilt of sin, but I must balance it with the grace of the gospel. Guilt without grace is just a way for me to sinfully judge another person. Guilt with grace lets us both enter into the glory of the gospel and worship God for what He really has done for us.

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