As Beth pointed out in yesterday’s post, the story of Job is set in Abraham’s time. In these ancient days before the temple was established, before judges and kings, people still had to deal with the lifelong debate about why bad things happen to good people. As part of the wisdom literature, this singular work shows up in the middle of the Bible alongside of Psalms and Proverbs.
Here we are called to learn many lessons from the debates that ensue. One of the most important lessons seems to do with true friendship, the permission to say what is on your mind with one another in love and respect. In the discourses that follow we certainly see truth come from the words of Job’s friends, but they are the most friendly of words! I watched a Tim Keller talk yesterday that reminded me of the core reason behind this tension: we have a tendency to believe we are smarter than God. This arrogance isn’t so obvious as that sounds–we assert our pious positions unknowingly and probably far too often. This is the beauty and the wisdom wrapped in the book of Job. It’s honest and real and encourages us to listen to one another in ways that are deep and true. Sometimes, as Dr DelHousaye would say, the volume of “our response needs to be turned all the way down to shut up!”
Job breaks the silence in the previous chapter with resounding words of complaint and a great desire not only to die, but to never be born! Now, the first of his friends enters the conversation to help him understand what is going on.
Eliphaz begins by asking permission to speak, then immediately reminds Job of all the good things he’s done and taught, but he quickly calls Job’s attention to that very teaching and lets him know:
“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” Job 4:7
Eliphaz reminds Job that he should repent, there is no way to be righteous before God (Job 4:17), that trouble is a part of life (Job 5:7) and it’s wonderful to be corrected by God! (Job 5:17). In the middle of this first round of debate, Eliphaz is not shy to offer his advice:
“But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.” Job 5:8
Because, of course dear friend, Job hasn’t already done that! Seriously? Is this your best advice dear friend?
Job is not pleased with this advice, to say the least. His reaction smacks his friend in the face with some reality and a pound of bitterness:
But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams…Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid. Job 6:15,21
Job begs his friends to show him the err of his ways, reveal the mistakes, help me understand. These are somewhat rhetorical questions, but also clues to his friends to listen and help him unpack the calamity that has beset he and his family.
Job quickly turns his attention to God. He honors God by extolling his right to give and take. In a way, Job reveres God’s great position as giving him permission to complain: God wants us to express ourselves, to be completely transparent before him.
“Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 7:11
One of my favorite quotes here, and in a few of the psalms, is quoted by C.S. Lewis implicitly and explicitly in his writings. If nothing else, take time to soak this in:
What is mankind that you make so much of them,
that you give them so much attention,
that you examine them every morning
and test them every moment? Job 7:17-18
How is it, Lord, that we are worthy of your attention? Do you really love us so much that you would stop to consider our pain and suffering? Humble me this morning, Lord, and nourish my soul, my inner most being with your love. Show me in ways that words and music fail to express. When I hear the bird chirp to see the genuine smile from a friend, remind me that your love is oceans greater and my pettiness is unfounded. Teach me through the words of Job and his friends we can be real with one another.