Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. Job 5.17-18.
It is a fact that God disciplines his children. I might (misguidedly) wish it were otherwise, but it is not. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has a long passage dealing with God’s discipline in chapter 12 (verses 5-11) where he actually advances the fact of God’s discipline as a proof of God’s fatherhood: “God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” But I need to be clear on this; that only the first half of what Eliphaz says is actually true. He is one of Job’s “comforters”, and Job’s comforters do, of course, tend to get it wrong.
Scripture is consistent in claiming that there is a blessing in God’s discipline and that I will do well to embrace it when it happens and to allow it to bring me back to where I should be with God; but, contrary to what Eliphaz implies in the second part of this word he addresses to Job in this morning’s text, Scripture nowhere suggests that God’s discipline ever includes the infliction of injury or sickness on those he loves.
Nothing makes me sadder than to hear a person who is suffering from some dreadful illness say that God must have “sent it” either as a punishment for sin or to teach a lesson in holiness. No! In Scripture, the discipline of God is always “just” (Jeremiah 30.11; 46.28) and it is always through what is called “hardship” (Hebrews 12.7) — the deprivation of material comforts (“You rebuke and discipline men for their sin; you consume their wealth like a moth” — Psalm 39.11) or “exile”, that is to say, God’s temporary separation of his people from something they love until they turn from what is wrong in their lives and get back in a right relationship with him. It is never through disease or sickness.
In short, God’s discipline is much like that of a parent who, until the child has seen the error of his ways, will take away the child’s toys for a while, or send the child up to his room … but not, of course, infect the child with with measles or break the youngster’s arm!
That’s lesson number one for me this morning. But lesson number two is perhaps this — that I should be careful how I talk to others about what is going on in their lives. For even though the first part of what Eliphaz said to Job was correct, the fact was that it simply did not apply to Job and Eliphaz should never have been saying such things to him. God does discipline his people when they have gone off the rails and are deaf to his voice, yes; but Job was not being disciplined — that is perfectly clear from chapter 1. Eliphaz could have done with the gift of discernment when talking to Job; and in my ministry to others I can do with it too!
Lord, help me to discern when and where and how you are at work in the things that happen to me and to others, and to respond in a right and appropriate way. Amen.