Job is wondering whether his faithful obedience to God really much mattered.
Such is not only a great temptation in affliction, but a good question. If obedience to God on earth does not necessarily produce pleasure, comfort, or prosperity in the here and now, what is a man’s incentive? If faithfulness to God on earth is in no way a contingency of salvation, what is the purpose? Do faithfulness and obedience really make any difference? If we are saved despite our works and works aren’t a formula for earthly happiness, why try?
Job has a valid point. But how does Elihu answer?
And Elihu answered and said:
2 “Do you think this to be just?
Do you say, ‘It is my right before God,’
3 that you ask, ‘What advantage have I?
How am I better off than if I had sinned?’
4 I will answer you
and your friends with you.
5 Look at the heavens, and see;
and behold the clouds, which are higher than you.
6 If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him?
And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
7 If you are righteous, what do you give to him?
Or what does he receive from your hand?
8 Your wickedness concerns a man like yourself,
and your righteousness a son of man. ~Job 35:1-8
Job, you don’t hurt God by sinning. You don’t impress him by obeying. Our God stands in need of no one and nothing. No good or evil done on your part can or will ever manipulate God’s will. One thing we do know is that when we sin, we follow after Adam. When we obey we follow after Christ. We obey because we trust our God to be good and because we love him. We exercise faith because we believe him. These are not cards we play with God. They are simply evidences of genuine salvation. They matter because apart from them we cannot be proven true, have any assurance, or glorify God. We do not do them to obtain favor or assurance; we do them because we have favor and assurance. Our incentive is our joy and his pleasure. If that is not enough to spur us on to do good, doubtless we simply do not know him as Our Father.
Like Job, sometimes our circumstances bring only pain. We wonder how a good God could ever find pleasure in crushing us – or his son. It’s in these times we must know that our God is looking for our trust in the trenches.
Elihu goes on to elaborate on how no one praises God for the good things when under affliction. Often, if we find ourselves poring over our troubles we will find little reason to rejoice in our current blessings or our future glory. (Also one of the many reasons I do not recommend psychotherapy. Where it is rooted in studying the problems, God’s Word is rooted in looking at the solution.) Therefore, Elihu reasons, God is justified in not hearing our prayers. Often, it is pride that reigns in a heart which allows earthly troubles to overshadow heavenly treasures.
Faithful obedience to God while on earth matters more than anything else. It is a great temptation to doubt this particular truth while suffering under affliction. It is easy to slip into self-pity and unhelpful introspection. But God calls his children to trust him against all odds. Pride will keep us from praise at every turn. The only hope we have is keeping our hearts and minds stayed solely upon Christ. There is no other remedy. There is no better help.
Consider him. Remember his earthly life. Recall his humiliation, agony, and death – not your own. Think about what beautiful eternal results his suffering brought and know you do not suffer in vain, rather, to make known his glory. Know that no matter what God calls you to endure or sacrifice for him, it is far less than what he was willing to endure and sacrifice for you. Take courage by following the leader – the Lord – in his example through suffering.