Better to say nothing
Job 16: What a bunch of miserable comforters!
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, arrive at his side they’re overwhelmed with what they find. They cry out and rip their clothes in mourning. Then for seven days they sit with him, speechless at the horror of it all. It appears that it’s during these days that they come to a decision to go with the status quo because once they start talking they merely state and restate the “folk wisdom” of the day. As they do that, Job turns his fevered face toward them and denounces them as “miserable comforters.” I think they are better comforters sitting there for a week, broken and speechless at what they see than when they start reasoning with Job about all of this. There’s a lesson to be learned here. People who are suffering pain and grief don’t really need our platitudes or our so-called wisdom. Even when we don’t know “why” things are as they are our presence matters. The scriptures tell us to “mourn with those who mourn.” We aren’t called to explain it all but we are told to care and help the broken-hearted by sharing in their sorrow.
Take Away: When we don’t know what to say or do we don’t need to say or do anything – just be there, sharing in the moment.
I wonder which Internet forum Job visited?
Job 15: If you were truly wise, would you sound so much like a windbag?
Eliphaz’s second speech is pretty much a repeat of what’s already been said: people who ignore God’s rules have nothing but trouble. It’s his response to Job’s prayer of complaint that’s interesting to me. Job says that life is unfair and he wonders if there’s something beyond this life where wrongs are made right. As it is, he says, life for both good and bad people has way too much pain and sorrow. Eliphaz hates what Job’s saying so he calls him a “windbag,” and his words just so much “hot air.” I doubt that Job is all that interested in hearing what Eliphaz has to say after that! This isn’t exactly a deep, thoughtful response, but I can’t help but hear some exchanges between Christians in this. Job has raised some valid points, but instead of responding to them, even in disagreement, Eliphaz insults him and then repeats what he’s already said on the topic. That sounds very much like the exchanges I’ve seen on the Internet. In person, we’re usually a bit more polite, but the end result is the same. How do I respond when a fellow Christian brings up a point and comes to a conclusion that I hate? Do I respond by insulting him and repeating what I’ve already said? Do I attempt to understand why he believes as he does? Eliphaz never imagined an Internet forum, but his style is alive and flourishing today.
Take Away: Learning to really listen to people with whom we disagree is an important part of our spiritual journey.
Looking for justice
Job 14: If we humans die, will we live again?
This is one of the most famous statements in the book of Job and it comes as Job laments the unfairness of life. A tree can be cut down and yet be the source of new life, but Job hasn’t seen that with human beings. When a person, good or bad, dies and is buried it appears that it’s the end for them. Is there a possibility of resurrection? Job hopes so. After all, if God is good and yet people who serve him come to tragic ends and that is that, well, something is wrong! This insight doesn’t stop Job from his suffering and questioning, but it’s a brilliant insight concerning human suffering. We may not always see the full picture of God’s justice and goodness now, but the final chapter of his dealings with human beings isn’t written at the grave. If God’s justice isn’t seen this side of the grave, it must be seen beyond it.
Take Away: Without Easter Job has arrived at a theology of a resurrection. Isn’t that neat!
Life after death?
Job 13: How many sins have been charged against me?
In response to Zophar’s counsel, Job replies with some choice insults. He doesn’t need Zophar to lecture him. In fact Job already believes all the things his friend has said. Beyond that, Job assures him that everyone believes that stuff. Since Zophar and Job believe the same thing (that bad things only happen to bad people) Job again turns his attention to God. He wants to know exactly what sins have been charged against him. Perhaps there needs to be an audit of God’s bookkeeping system so the error against Job can be found. Still, even as he pleads with God to tell him what he’s done wrong, Job’s reminded of the uncomfortable fact of the unfairness of life in general. It may be that Job has never admitted this to himself before. It’s only as he sits here in absolute misery listening to his friends saying all the same things he’s said many times that he acknowledges that life isn’t as neatly ordered as he has believed. Both good and bad people alike have plenty of trouble come to their lives. It seems to Job that even a lowly ditch digger gets a day off once in a while. Shouldn’t God make life easy for human beings who only have a short life anyway? And, since our lives are so limited, is there something more, beyond this life? Job has no Easter story to draw from, but even in this distant day, he’s considering the possibility of life after death as a way God might “balance the books” of life.
Take Away: We know more about this than Job does; that ultimately the Lord will set all things right.
Not a very pious prayer
Job 11: Should this kind of loose talk be permitted?
When Job finishes responding to Bildad he addresses the Almighty, Himself. His words in chapter 10 are that prayer, but it isn’t a very pious one. Job, in his misery, cries out to God, demanding to know why his life has taken such a terrible turn. He complains that, apparently, he’s accidentally missed some step and is being punished for it even though he has no idea of why. If this is how things are, Job decides, it would be better to never live at all. Zophar, but not God, responds to this prayer of complaint. He’s scandalized; maybe backing away lest the bolt of lightning he’s sure is coming doesn’t hit him too. In his thinking bad things happen to us because we deserve it. This is no time to complain to God, it’s a time to repent and admit wrong doing so God will let up. Listen, Job’s prayer is the right prayer here because it’s his heart’s cry. God doesn’t want to hear us pray little fake prayers that pretend things about ourselves and our relationship with him. He’d rather hear an honest prayer of complaint than a dishonest prayer of contrition. It may be that we Christians have so narrowly defined how prayer should sound that we’ve defused it of much of its power.
Take Away: A dishonest prayer is more posturing than it is praying.
The most important thing
Job 9: I don’t understand what’s going on.
Job’s reply to Bildad’s lecture about how bad people have bad things happen to them and good people enjoy good things is not to disagree. He says, “So what’s new? I know all this.” Again, (and I know I can quit harping on this) Job’s complaint is that he’s done nothing to deserve all this and that somehow there’s been a mistake in heaven. However, Job is a clear thinker. He understands that the only way a man can be right with God is by God’s mercy. He trusts in God, but he understands that it’s only by grace and mercy that he has a standing before the Lord. The impressive thing about Job, however, isn’t that he has a firm grasp on spiritual truths that won’t be fully revealed until Jesus explains them. The impressive thing is that even when he feels he’s being treated unjustly by God, even when he doesn’t understand what’s going on, and even as he cries out for a fair hearing on this whole matter, he stands firm in his faith. In all this, we’re reminded that faith trumps even knowledge. That’s not only vital for Job, but it’s vital for me too.
Take Away: Faith trumps even knowledge.
Caution: big issues in play
Job 8: Does God mess up?
We’re still at the beginning of the debate that makes up the most of the book of Job but the battle lines are already drawn. Job doesn’t really disagree with what his friends believe; he just sees himself as an innocent victim of some cosmic mistake. Bildad’s comment that “God doesn’t mess up” is at the heart of all this. Job and his friends believe that when a person has something bad happen to them that it’s because they’re being punished by God. Bildad doesn’t need any other evidence of Job’s children’s sin than the fact that they all died in a tornado. Since he can’t imagine a horrible thing like that “just happening” it has to be that God did it. And, if God did it, he did it for a reason. After all, everyone knows God doesn’t make mistakes. As I’ve said, the purpose of this book to answer the question, “Will a man serve God for nothing?” However, there are other issues in play and the majority of the book is taken up with those issues. This is one of the big ones: how does the reality of bad things happening to good people fit a theology of a wise, loving, and all knowing God?
Take Away: One result of reading this book of the Bible is that the reader has to think about big issues.
B-B’s and Battleships
Job 7: Even suppose I’d sinned — how would that hurt you?
In this passage Job wonders why it is that God is so serious about sin in the first place. He has a hard time understanding how a puny man’s sins can impact the Almighty. Now that’s an interesting question! If God is merely sitting on his throne making up rules for me to follow this argument has some merit. Job, though, underestimates the relational intimacy the Lord wants to have with us. He doesn’t want to be far above me, looking down from heavenly realms, keeping his distance. Rather, he wants to live in me and through me. When he created me, he made me in his own image. Now, even though that image is marred, there remains something of God in me. If this is true, and the Lord has connected me to his life then my sin will touch him in a direct way. Sin not only destroys my relationship with God but it actually wounds him. Now, I don’t intend to be too hard on Job at this point. After all, I have one big advantage Job doesn’t have. I can turn to the New Testament Gospels and watch God being touched by sin as Jesus hangs on a cross. For God our sin is more than our firing B-B’s at a Battleship and it’s more than an academic issue.
Take Away: Because the Lord connects us directly to his life, we actually have the ability to cause him pain or bring him pleasure.
How things really are
Job 5: What a blessing when God steps in and corrects you!
If I work my way through the book of Job and pick out various quotes from Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliju and then present them to about any Christian I think they’d find the words quite acceptable. On the other hand, I could pick out many things Job says and those same Christians would shake their heads in dismay. How can it be that this old book which has been available to God’s people for so long be so poorly understood? Eliphaz says the same kind of stuff that we say. He reminds Job of his good life and suggests that he draw on that for hope now, in this day of suffering. He tells Job that everyone knows that for God’s people everything will turn out okay. It’s the bad people who need to worry about what the future holds. He even reminds his friend that human beings are born into trouble. In other words, “that’s life.” Job needs to throw himself on the mercy of God who delights in lifting broken people. So now, Job ought to be thankful that God cares enough about him to discipline him. If Job does that everything will be just fine. Eliphaz concludes, “This is the way things are.” The thing that I find spooky here is that if this speech was, for instance, in the Psalms, I’d read it and not think anything about it, just accepting it as truth. It’s only as I realize who it is who says this and then skip to the end of the story that I realize I need to do some serious sifting through this kind of thinking if I’m to actually know “how things really are.” It isn’t that everything Job’s friends say is wrong. Instead it’s that not everything they say is right. This is a book for people who are willing to think about big issues.
Take Away: Beware of things you’ve easily believed.
Telling it like it is
Job 3: Why didn’t I die at birth?
All of my life I’ve heard people speak of the “patience of Job” and, frankly, I don’t get it. Just a quick read through chapter 3 reveals that Job doesn’t stoically accept his condition. He’s miserable and he wishes he’d never been born. “May those who are ‘good at cursing’ curse the day of my birth,” he says. As I look at this miserable man I can’t help but appreciate his stark honesty. This guy isn’t given to platitudes. Instead, he tells it like it is, and at this moment in his life, life isn’t worth living. Somehow Christians have gotten the idea that we ought to behave as Job does in chapter one when he sincerely declares “God gives, God takes.” We read that and make it our model for dealing with pain and suffering. However, we need to keep on reading. Soon we find this same man crying out against his own life. Beyond that, to excuse Job as being “out of his mind” in pain is such a horrible put-down of Job. Yes, he’s in agony but he’s still thinking and the things he says reflect exactly what he believes. When we deny ourselves (and Job) the right to be absolutely honest about how we feel we destine ourselves to continue in a shallow relationship with God. You see, when I’m going through a trial God isn’t interested in seeing me put on a brave front and hearing me say all the right things. It’s honesty that he wants and sometimes that includes our telling him, and others, how miserable we are. Such honesty opens the way for God to work in our lives at levels we didn’t even know existed.
Take Away: There’s never a time to pretend things are different than they are before the Lord.