Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of Job
Lesson 7. Retributive Punishment
Many people have the idea that God is a vengeful Deity just waiting for a chance to strike them with His lightning bolts of retribution for their sins. And if God is indeed like this, a judgment with Him on the bench would certainly be a fearful prospect. The Bible, however, describes a God and a judgment that differs startling from this common misconception.
We also sometimes picture a loving Jesus who stands between us and a harsh Father. But according to the Bible, the Father loves us and is just as anxious for our eternal salvation as is the Son. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Cor. 5:19).
This was one of the great Bible truths revealed in the 1888 message. E. J. Waggoner, one of the "messengers," put it this way:
"'By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.' There is no exception here. As the condemnation came upon all, so the justification comes upon all. Christ has tasted death for every man. He has given himself for all. Nay, he has given himself to every man. The free gift has come upon all. The fact that it is a free gift is evidence that there is no exception. If it came upon only those who have some special qualification, then it would not be a free gift. It is a fact, therefore, plainly stated in the Bible, that the gift of righteousness and life in Christ has come to every man on earth. There is not the slightest reason why every man that has ever lived should not be saved unto eternal life, except that they would not have it. So many spurn the gift offered so freely." 
The book of Job, probably the oldest book in the world, describes an apparently terminal patient talking with his "friends" who are sure that the sufferer deserves his fate, a patient who protests that no one could sin enough to deserve this kind of punishment (certainly, not him).
As the discussion begins, Eliphaz warns the suffering Job that his agony is justly inflicted because he must be guilty of a terrible sin. Here are some transcripts:
"Think back now. Name a single case where a righteous man met with disaster. ... Evil does not grow in the soil, nor does trouble grow out of the ground. No! Man brings trouble on himself, as surely as sparks fly up from a fire. If I were you, I would turn to God. ... Job, we have learned this by long study. It is true, so now accept it" (Job 4:7; 5:6-8, 27, Good News Bible).
God is punishing Job, says Eliphaz, and Job can best serve his own self-interest by repenting. Isn't that good reasoning? It was the best that human minds could come up with in that day, and it is still the way many reason today. Suffering humanity must simply implore mercy from a heartless God who Himself does not suffer.
As the discussion continues, however, Job manages to penetrate to the inner fallacy of such a concept. Without our Bible to help him, he finally reasons his way out of the shadows. Behind human suffering stands a God who also suffers.
"Almighty God has shot me with arrows, and their poison spreads through my body. God has lined up his terrors against me. ... Why won't God give me what I ask? Why won't he answer my prayer? If only he would go ahead and kill me! If I knew he would, I would leap for joy, no matter how great my pain. ... What strength do I have to keep on living? Why go on living when I have no hope? ... I am angry and bitter. I have to speak. ... I give up, I am tired of living" (6:4, 8-11; 7:11, 16).
Then Bildad joins the discussion and presses the thorn of despair even deeper. Job must have sinned terribly, he argues:
"God never twists justice; he never fails to do what is right. Your children must have sinned against God, and so he punished them as they deserved. ... God will never abandon the faithful" (8:3, 4, 20).
"Yes," Job replies, "I've heard all that before. ... I no longer care. I am sick of living. Nothing matters; innocent or guilty, God will destroy us. ... God gave the world to the wicked. He made all the judges blind. And if God didn't do it, who did?" (9:1, 21-24).
Ah, Job! You are half right and half wrong. There is injustice—there you are right. But God didn't cause it; there you are wrong. There is an answer to the question that you don't know yet. We who can read the prologue to the book know what it is: God did not bring Job's suffering, Satan did. But Job can't yet break through his pain to realize this.
Zophar has been listening quietly, making up his mind what to say. When he joins the discussion, his comment is the most unkind thrust of all. He tells Job, "God is punishing you less than you deserve" (11:6).
Even without physical suffering, it is unbearable to feel totally condemned and forsaken by God. Job can't understand why God has turned so against him. He imagines himself as a helpless child, hiding in the basement until his father gets over his drunken rage and calls, "Job, my darling child, where are you? Come back."
"I wish you would hide me in the world of the dead; let me be hidden until your anger is over, and then set a time to remember me. If a man dies, can he come back to life? But I will wait for better times, wait till this time of trouble is ended. Then you will call, and I will answer, and you will be pleased with me, your creature" (14:13-15).
Meanwhile, Job's loathsome disease is so bad that even his family doesn't want to come near him. Worse yet, he feels that God has forsaken him too:
"My brothers forsake me; I am a stranger to those who knew me; my relatives and friends are gone. Those who were guests in my house have forgotten me; my servant girls treat me like a stranger and a foreigner. When I call a servant, he doesn't answer—even when I beg him to help me. My wife can't stand the smell of my breath, and my own brothers won't come near me. ... My closest friends look at me with disgust; those I loved most have turned against me. ... The hand of God has struck me down" (19:13-21).
Zophar responded: This is God's doing; your sins have caught up with you at last. Anyone as sick as you are is getting only what he deserves.
Job and his friends were both right, and they were both wrong. Disease and death do come as a result of sin. But it is not God who inflicts this torture on human beings.
There is a behind-the-scenes altercation going on between God and Satan over the issue of man's guilt or innocence. Job is a sinner—as all of us are. But he has a Redeemer who has taken his sin upon Himself. In Christ, Job is innocent; Christ's righteousness is his. No way does he deserve this suffering. It is Satan, the adversary, who inflicts it on him.
Thus Job's drama becomes the saga of humanity. Will he keep his faith in God despite his suffering? Will he honor his Lord? Yes, he did.
A divine link binds Job, suffering alone on his dung heap, with another Sufferer, dying alone on His cross. Do we dare see Him as He is—the Prince of sufferers who, although He "knew no sin" yet was made "to be sin for us ... that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him"? (2 Cor. 5:21, KJV). He became one of us that He might "taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). Not only the horror of death due to a terminal illness, but something far worse—the horror of what the Bible calls "the second death" (Rev. 2:11; 20:14).
What's the difference? Every suffering patient can die with hope illuminating his soul because Christ is "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). The loving assurance of forgiveness can steal into the despairing soul, and in the darkness a light will begin to shine. Death will lose its terror. The Holy Spirit will whisper the assurance that "the Lord hath laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6), and the sufferer can go to sleep confident of the peace of heaven filling his soul, and that he will rise in the first resurrection of the saints.
But when the Son of God died, He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). This was not the cry of an actor who has memorized his lines to recite them on cue. Christ tasted the kind of anguish the unlighted lost will feel in their final hour following the second resurrection.
Every patient in the world needs to see that divine Substitute and know that Christ is not merely an indifferent Onlooker to his torment, One who does not Himself also suffer. Christ shares the pain. More than that, He suffers agony beyond our limit to endure. Sleep and death can release us, but Christ suffers on because He identifies with all human pain worldwide.
Christ's disciples once asked him if a man who was born blind had himself sinned, or had his parents sinned. His reply stunned them: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." Then He healed him and the man "came seeing" (John 9:1-7). Jesus did not mean that God had made the man to be blind on purpose; rather, God overruled the blindness that He might demonstrate His saving power. God's grace specializes in turning curses into blessings.
"With the sufferings of Christ, there is also joy and glory. We are graven on the palms of His hands (Isa. 49:16), but with the marks of the nails of His cross there are also beams of light. In all our tribulation we are comforted by the God of all comfort. 'For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ' (2 Cor. 1:5). In being partakers of Christ's sufferings we are identified as children of God. (Heb. 12:7, 8). 'If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you' (1 Peter 4:14). There is glory with His sufferings in us, and as our sufferings are His, so also His glory is ours; and when that glory shall be revealed, we shall also be glad "with exceeding joy (1 Peter 4:13)." 
God does warn us that "sin pays its wage—death," and it only makes good sense to "flee from the wrath to come," the "wrath" that sin brings on ourselves (Rom. 6:23, GNB; Matt. 3:7, KJV). But until death "is swallowed up in victory," God must suffer with us when we suffer, because He can't stop loving us.
—From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
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