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Related Verses: Job 8:1-22; 11:1-20

Leading Question: Is it possible that the book of Job eliminates all possibilities of speaking of retributive punishment?

This week’s lesson focuses on Job’s second and third “friends,” Bildad and Zophar, who are even more brutal than Eliphaz was.  In Job 11:6, Zophar confidently asserts: “Know then that God exacts of you less that your guilt deserves” (NRSV).  How could Job’s “friend” come to such a conclusion?

If we look at what we can know about “punishment” for sin, Job’s friends assume that any trouble that falls upon a human is the result of that person’s sin.  In other words, they want a completely predictable universe in which all good deeds are rewarded positively and all bad deeds are rewarded negatively.

When disaster or trouble strikes, four explanations are possible.  How could each of these fit Job’s circumstances?

1. Deserved punishment arising from within the deviant behavior itself. To take a simple example, if one eats green apples one could expect a stomach ache. In Scripture the phrase: “your blood shall be upon your own head” broadens that application to any “deserved” punishment. It is like a boomerang. The sin carries its own reward and returns on the head of the sinner.  Joshua 2:19 uses that line to apply to any of Rahab’s family who are not in her house when Jericho falls. If they are not where they are supposed to be, “their blood will be upon their own head.” In 1 Kings 2:32, Joab is handled in the same way. His blood would be upon his own head because of his guilt in killing innocent men. In Acts 18:6, Paul uses the same line when the Jews rejected the preaching of Christ: “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (NIV).

2. External punishment applied for deliberate disobedience. In this case, the reward is not a stomach for eating green apples, but a whipping for disregarding parental counsel. In a sense, it could be seen as deserved, but the punishment is separate from the offense. In Job, the friends assume that all good behavior is rewarded “externally” by God and all bad behavior is rewarded “externally” by God. Thus when Job fell into difficulty, they assumed that he was being punished for bad behavior.

3. Accident related.  In ancient cultures and still today in some tribal societies, every negative deed, whether deliberate or not, must be “punished.”  Numbers 35 spells out how the cities of refuge were intended to moderate this custom in case of accidents. But the offender still had to find his way to the city before the avenger of blood (goel) tracked him down. In more civilized lands we would put some distance between natural disasters and human behavior.  Job’s friends, however, saw natural disasters in terms of the second category: punishment from God for sins committed.

4. Demonic initiative.  Job’s whole situation is thrown into question because of the role of Satan. Job himself doesn’t know about Satan, but the author and the readers do because of the prologue to the book. In this connection, Ellen White suggests a tantalizing application to virtually everything in life: “There is not a blessing which God bestows upon man, nor a trial which He permits to befall him, but Satan both can and will seize upon it to tempt, to harass and destroy the soul, if we give him the least advantage.” – Patriarchs and Prophets, 421

The suggestion in the official study guide that much of what the friends said was true – but was just misapplied to Job, needs to be revisited.

Question: Could one almost say that no inspired passage should be seen as “true” apart from the application?

Even where the application may seem to be correct, the attitude of the one making the application can be negative. Speaking to A. T. Jones, Ellen White wrote, “Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.” Testimonies 6:123.

Question: Can we cite certain biblical events and indeed the final judgment as examples of God’s “retributive” judgment?

The official study guide refers to the flood (Genesis 6-8), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18), the Korah, Dathan, and Abiram tragedy (Numbers 16:1-23), and the final judgment as examples of God’s “retributive” judgment (cf. The Great Controversy, 672, 673).

But all that needs to be seen in the light of Ellen White’s interpretation of Jesus’ treatment of sinners, especially with reference to this comment: “He fearlessly denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity, but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes” The Desire of Ages, 354. And in Christ’s Object Lesson, Ellen White makes this striking statement: “God destroys no man. Everyone who is destroyed will have destroyed himself.” COL, 84.

Yes, the Bible sometimes draws a direct connection between sin and God’s punishment. But in the case of the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, one can argue that God’s purpose was to protect the innocent from rampant violence. Such an interpretation allows us to see tears in God’s eyes, rather than just anger when he destroys the wicked. Isaiah 28:21 refers to God’s judgment against the wicked as “his strange act” (KJV). The enables us to see God’s great love for all his children, even the wicked.

Question: Is there always a clear correlation between wickedness and punishment in the incidents related in Scripture?

The tidy rationale of Job’s friends quickly breaks down when we look at how God actually deals with sinners in Scripture.  To us, the death of Uzzah when he touched the ark while just trying to be helpful (2 Sam. 6:6) and the mauling of the 42 boys who mocked Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-24) seem extreme, especially when compared with immoral behavior of Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas. As the NIV of 1 Samuel 2:12 puts it, “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD.” Indeed, they broke all the rules of priestly behavior when they took the priestly portion of the sacrifices offered at the sanctuary (1 Sam. 2:13-17) and when they “slept with the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (1 Sam. 2:22).  They eventually received their reward, but they carried the ark all over the country without being touched. No, based on what we can know, the “judgments” of God are highly unpredictable.  And the book of Job is a reminder of all that.

Note: What follows is an article written by J. Paul Grove, former Professor of Theology at Walla Walla College. Grove passed to his rest at age 95 on February 20, 2015, after a long and fruitful ministry. In this article, Grove places a positive construction on the idea of a God of love in his interpretation of God’s “retributive” judgments.

 


 

Do You Like God?
How long will sinners suffer in hell?
By J. Paul Grove
Walla Walla College Alumni Review, Winter, 1976, pp. 8-9

Even though you may have been a church member for some time and the question seems out of place, how would you answer it if you faced it squarely and honestly? Do you like everything you know about God? In the back of your mind, are there questions that have not been satisfactorily answered?    We know that God is love. 1 John 4:8 is a familiar concept: “He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” That is what we should believe, and what we want to believe. Yet, certain disturbing statements are difficult to harmonize with this God of love.

One of them is His use of tormenting fire in the final destruction of the wicked. Notice the description in Revelation 20:7-10, 14-15 RSV: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison…And they march up over the broad earth and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city. But fire came down from Heaven and consumed them. And the Devil who had deceived them was thrown into a lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet were, and there they will be tormented day and night, forever and ever…Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” This is the second death, the lake of fire, and if anyone’s name was not found in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This picture is even more disturbing, as described in The Great Controversy p. 673: “The wicked receive their recompense in the earth…They ‘shall be stubble and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts’…Some are destroyed as in a moment, while others suffer many days. All are punished ‘according to their deeds’…(Satan’s) punishment is to be far greater than that of those whom he has deceived. After all have perished who fell by his deceptions, he is still to live and suffer on.”

Does God work a miracle to keep a person alive and suffering for days in a lake of fire? Probation is closed prior to this. Of what value is prolonged suffering now? No character can be changed. No soul can be saved. How do you harmonize this with a God of love?

Some inspired statements help. “God destroys no man. Everyone who is destroyed will have destroyed himself” (Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 84, 85). A biblical reference is “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23). Notice the clear separation between the work of God and that of sin. Sin is the destroyer. God is the giver of life. Revelation 20 itself also helps. It calls this fiery destruction the second death.

In all Scripture there is only one description of a person in the throes of the second death. That person was Christ. What killed Him? Fire from God out of heaven? A lake of fire? If he died any other death than the death that the sinner is to die, He did not die our death. And yet there is no fire mentioned in His death.

Without going into great detail, the description of Christ’s suffering is a picture of mental agony. What Christ gave expression to while He was dying on the cross was mental anguish. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46-50). “It was not bodily suffering which so quickly ended the life of Christ upon the cross, it was the crushing weight of the sins of the world and the sense of the Father’s wrath that broke His heart” (Ellen G. White, “The Suffering of Christ,” The Bible Student’s Library, No. 4, April 1889).

“Christ’s keenest anguish was the sense of His father’s displeasure. Because of this, His mental agony was of such intensity that man can have but a faint conception of it…Many have suffered death by slow tortures; others have suffered death by crucifixion. In what does the death of God’s dear Son differ from these?…If the sufferings of Christ consisted in physical pain alone, then His death was no more painful than that of some of the martyrs…The sins of the world,…the sense of His Father’s wrath,…crushed His soul,…brought despair” (Testimonies, Vol. 2, pp. 213, 214).”And now the Lord of glory was dying , a ransom for the race…but His suffering was from the sense of the malignity of sin…So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt” (The Desire of Ages, p. 752, 753).

These statements indicate that that which killed Christ occurred in the mind. It was mental anguish; agony that originated in thought processes. The destroying agony was not caused by the physical body’s being destroyed on the cross, or because the physical body’s being destroyed on the cross, or because the physical body was being burned by fire. If this is the only description, and it is, of the second death of a human being, then it ought to say something to us. The death of man is not brought about by what we usually think of as a lake of fire.

To go a little bit further, there are statements that indicate that Christ’s death was like the death of man as a sinner. Which then says, “All right, we’ve taken a look at what killed Him.” That which ended His life should be the cause of the final death of the sinner.

“Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race” (Ibid., p. 753). That would be after the close of probation, wouldn’t it? “This agony He must not exert His divine power to escape. As man He must suffer the consequence of man’s sin. As man He must endure the wrath of God against transgression” (Ibid., p. 686).

He did endure the wrath of God, He did feel God’s displeasure at sin. He felt it not because of the spikes that were driven through His hands. He felt it because of the mental torture and the mental anguish He was experiencing. [8/9]

Soul sorrow can bring death. Christ Himself said on the way to Gethsemane, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). When He came forth from Gethsemane, the marks of the battle that went on in His mind were still there. Soul sorrow almost destroyed Christ in Gethsemane even before the cross. “Having made the decision, He fell dying to the ground” (The Desire of Ages, p. 693).

What is it, then, that actually destroys man in the second death? I suggest to you that we could express it in one word: “glory.” God’s glory destroys man in the second death. “Like Israel of old the wicked destroy themselves; they fall by their iniquity. By a life of sin, they have placed themselves so out of harmony with God, their natures have become so debased with evil, that the manifestation of His glory is to them a consuming fire” (The Great Controversy, p. 37). What is the word? Fire!

“This is not an act of arbitrary power on the part of God” (The Desire of Ages, p.764). Man himself determines how he will react to that glory. “He who is to the transgressors of His law a devouring fire, is to His people a safe pavilion” (The Great Controversy, p. 654). “While God is to the wicked a consuming fire, He is to His people both a sun and a shield” (Ibid., p. 673). “The light of the glory of God, which imparts life to the righteous, will slay the wicked” (The Desire of Ages, p. 108).

“How can the manifestation of His glory, His character, cause degrees of suffering and finally bring death?”

I suggest that soul agony or mental anguish is proportionate to the purity and the sensitivity of the conscience. That is why Christ died so quickly.

But Satan and all hardened sinners do not have a conscience; at least, a working conscience. That is, not until they try to take the holy city, after the thousand years and see that “great panoramic scene.” In that scene they are shown all the events of earth’s history that have to do with the salvation of man and their need for it. They see Christ for what He is, how loving He is, how great He is. They see how awful they are by way of comparison. For a thrilling devotion sometime, read The Great Controversy, pages 662-673.

Christ appears above the city seated on a throne of burnished gold. “Around Him are the subjects of His kingdom. The power and majesty of Christ no language can describe…The glory of the Eternal Father is enshrouding His Son. The brightness of His presence fills the City of God, and flows out beyond the gates, flooding the whole earth with its radiance.”

“As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed.”

Now the suffering begins. The conscience is becoming sensitized. It may have been hardened, it may have been seared, but seeing every act in its true light begins to stir it. And the pain of conscience is the most difficult to endure. Notice the description in the same paragraph that talks about becoming conscious of every sin. “…all appear (that is, all the sins) as if written in letters of fire.” The sins burn into their consciousness as with letters of fire. That is mental agony!

“The awful spectacle appears just as it was. Satan, his angels, and his subjects have no power to turn from the picture of their own work. Each actor recalls the part which he performed…They vainly seek to hide from the divine majesty of His countenance, outshining the glory of the sun, while the redeemed cast their crowns at the Saviour’s feet, exclaiming, ‘He died for me!’”

The awfulness of their sin slowly sinks in. Guilt and despair rise to a level that cannot be endured. Then the wicked die the same death that Christ died. It is a death caused by mental agony.

The purer the conscience in this life, the more quickly the blessed relief of death will occur then. It will not take so long to fully sensitize it to the awfulness of sin. The redeemed do not have to endure that suffering! They “throw their crowns at the Saviour’s feet exclaiming, ‘He died for me!’”

What a picture of a loving God! Is there a literal fire in Revelation 20? Yes, that literal fire consumes the bodies of sinners already dead; killed by mental anguish and suffering. It rids the earth of every trace of sin. It melts the elements of the earth with fervent heat. The earth is purified. “God destroys no man. Everyone who is destroyed will have destroyed himself.”

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