Reflections From JOB 4-6: “AN EXCHANGE BETWEEN FRIENDS-The Innocent Don’t Suffer?”

job_1I’ve never heard of friends who would sit silently for days with a sick loved one, but Job’s friends did (2:13).  So when Eliphaz the Temanite hears Job’s complaint, he’s had seven days to consider how to response.  We tend to lack such patience.  Instead, we tend to rush to fix the “problem” without giving serious contemplation to the matter.  When it comes to human suffering, we have here a sober example of patience.  This is one of the good things Job’s friends did for him.

We must understand that Job is a man who strengthened and consoled many with his wisdom (4:1-4), but Job’s fear of God and integrity are suspect because of his remark:

“Remember now, whoever perished being innocent? or where were the upright destroyed?” (4:7)

 “…according to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it…” (4:8)

The fact is Eliphaz is telling Job, “You must have sin in your life because the innocent don’t ever suffer”.  Many in Christendom think this way, I used to be among those, but it’s a shame because it is false.  Remember that twice we are reminded that Job did not sin with his lips (1:22; 2:10)?  This means he spoke in accordance with the truth.  It’s true that suffering results from wrongdoing (either our own or someone else’s), but sometimes there’s no wrongdoing, it’s a conundrum to us.  It was to Job.

Now much of what Eliphaz says is true (5:1-27), but in Job’s case, it doesn’t apply because that’s not why he was afflicted.  Jobs response to Eliphaz is heart wrenching:

Oh that my grief were actually weighed and laid in the balances together with my calamity!  For then it would be heavier than the sand of the seas; therefore my words have been rash” (6:2-3)

The poetry helps us glimpse into his unbearable suffering where he attributes his bitter reality to God (6:2-3).  But is this wrong?  After all, God gave Satan permission to do this to Job.  This is much to consider for those of us who have all of our categories about God neatly in their place.  Too often past wounds and a narrow view of God’s love make this reality difficult to accept that God is ultimately responsible for our suffering, but it seems there’s no way around it here.  Job continues:

…consolation and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied

the words of the Holy One” (6:10)

 Job understands that his request for God to kill him was not sinful (6:8-9).  He also knows that his troubles are beyond self-remedy or any human assistance (6:11-13).  Yet, Job’s anger (understandably so) is with friends whose words only aggravate his condition and discourage him to be Godward (6:14-23).  So job challenges his friends:

“Teach me and I will be silent and show me how I have erred.  How painful are honest words!  But what does your argument prove?”

This is a fascinating account of the sufferer and those witnessing the crucible of suffering trying to understand this type of human existence.  This is serious thought, not for children, but for grown-ups (6:26-30).  In spite of Job’s friend’s words, he maintains his innocence.  The saying, “with friends like these who needs enemies” is appropriate.

In the book of James the apostle shares a bit of wisdom that Job and his friends could have benefitted from: “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath”.  But his friends actually sat seven days before him not uttering one word.  So maybe that text doesn’t apply to them.

What would become of me or of you if we were in Job’s place?  Many people have endured horrific injustices done to them for Christ’s sake.  But sadly many have shipwrecked the faith as well.  May we learn from both and prepare our souls for such occasions so if it comes, we might endure with integrity and truth just as Job endured.

BTW, God wants us to share in His holiness and suffering is sometimes the only path to reach this destiny (Heb.12:1-13)


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