Today’s reading: Job 32-34.
I love science. It opens our eyes to how the world works and has given us great advances in comfort and health. But it also changes continuously as scientists learn new truths that replace some of the old ones (as a side note, don’t you hate it when scientists claim to have the only reliable source of truth?). Scientists who were very sincere in their beliefs, but also sincerely wrong, promoted those old truths. It’s that idea of sincere error that characterizes Job’s final counselor, Elihu. After all the older men have given up trying to change Job’s mind, young Elihu steps up and says he can’t hold back his words any longer. He lets loose on Job with another long round of criticism and accusation. He also says some true things about God, and that mixture of truth and error makes it more difficult to judge whether Elihu is correct when he judges Job.
“So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” Job 34:10-12
Job’s three friends argued with false logic that since Job was suffering greatly he must have sinned greatly. The opening drama of the book makes it clear that Job was a righteous man. Job maintained his lack of guilt despite the continued insistence of his friends. Now Elihu steps forward with another argument to put Job in his place. Since God is perfect and cannot do wrong, Job must be responsible for his suffering rather than God. Job’s claim that God is responsible for his pain is therefore a form of rebellion against God. We, the readers of Job’s story, know that God did indeed give permission for Satan’s attack on Job, even having brought Job’s case to Satan’s attention.
How would you answer Elihu? Is God perfect and incapable of error? I hope you answered yes. How then do we reply to Elihu’s argument that God cannot be responsible for Job’s suffering and that the fault must be Job’s? Think about that for a moment before reading on.
One answer to this conundrum involves the concept of mystery. God does not do wickedly, but sometimes he does mysteriously. His ways are often hidden from us, as the drama between God and Satan was hidden from Job and his friends. His ways are sometimes too deep for us; not hidden from our view but hidden from our comprehension. Elihu defended God as incapable of error and therefore felt compelled to condemn Job for blaming God. But God deserved some or all of the blame! Elihu erred by not realizing that Job’s suffering served a purpose in God’s mysterious way. His suffering was not wicked as intended by God. His suffering had meaning and purpose.
- Job’s faithfulness in spite of suffering glorified God and rebuked Satan.
- Job’s perseverance became an example of patient endurance for all who read his story.
- Job’s suffering prepared him for a life-changing encounter with God.
I’m sure that Job’s suffering accomplished other purposes. Can you think of any? Unfortunately for Job, Elihu wanted to add to Job’s suffering so that he might learn the “error” of his ways. In his unnecessary indignation on God’s behalf, Elihu failed to show any compassion for Job. Let’s not make the same error when we encounter hurting people.
Image by James Marvin Phelps on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0