In Job 33, young Elihu is weighing in on the conversation between Job and his three friends. While Job has been defending his own righteousness from his three accusing friends, and his friends have been trying to find fault in him, Elihu defends God against the accusations on both sides, and when God speaks to Job, He speaks in a continuation of Elihu’s words.
In chapter 33 specifically, Elihu talks about God’s discipline, which in his description is sometimes kind and gentle like a warning in a dream or a vision, but most of the examples that Elihu lists are not so pleasant: sickness, pain, terror, etc. And God uses all of these to turn us away from destruction.
And then in verse 26, Elihu says that if a man turns from the path of destruction, “He prays to God and finds favor with him; he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, 'I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved.’”
While reading this chapter, I was reminded of Hebrews 12:4-11:
4. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6. because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8. If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live. 10. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Most of the times when these verses are quoted, verse 4 is left out, but when was the last time our struggle against sin resulted in us having our blood shed? I can honestly say I’ve never struggled against sin that much in my Christian walk. In fact, I can’t say that I would right now if the option was presented.
I’m not talking about forsaking Christ under duress; I’d like to think I could be brave and die a martyr’s death in that situation; rather I mean giving up little sins under duress. For example if someone said “watch this movie with violence and sex in it or I’ll kill you,” I’d watch the movie. No question. If someone hijacked my car and said “drive 5 miles over the speed limit or I’ll cut your fingers off,” you could bet I would. Why would I? Well, I do those things anyway, and I don’t struggle against them without the threat of violence. And I don’t think anyone reading this can point an accusing finger when it comes to the little sins either.
But if sin is sin, how is denying Christ in these little sins any different than pointedly denying Christ in a moment of duress? And if we are engaging in these little sins so readily without even the threat of bloodshed, how can we hope to avoid the discipline of God in our lives or call it anything less?
I pray that we, and by “we”, I mostly mean “I”, can accept God’s discipline and turn from our ways quickly not for God’s sake but for our sakes and for the sakes of those we come into contact with since as Elihu so succinctly puts it: “If you sin, how does that affect him? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does he receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself, and your righteousness only the sons of men.” (Job 35:6-8).
Lord, in your justice, remember mercy.