So by now you should be well into the argument section of Job. I want to share with you some information that might help you as you read through Job. As I mentioned on Saturday’s post, I find Job very difficult to comprehend, but there are some themes and some information that can be helpful in reading through this book.
Job has been called, by many different authors, the book for all men. That is because it deals with one key theme that every one of us can relate to: where is God when I am suffering. Job is all about the broken state of humanity, the place we all find ourselves in throughout our lives when nothing goes right and we are desperately trying to figure out why. An untimely death, a missed job opportunity you thought you had in the bag, a difficult financial situation, bankruptcy, infidelity by a spouse or just plain marital problems, a mental illness or depression. Those things that we don’t plan for in life.
Job starts by asking a question in chapter 3: why me? Why is this happening? When was the last time you asked that question? I’m willing to bet we’ve all asked it. Alright, maybe not all of us, but most of us. Essentially, that is question that Job is trying to find an answer to all through this book. Why, God, is all of this happening to me? In fact, most of what Job has to say all through the book is based on this question. Remember, one of Job’s base beliefs is that goodness comes when people are in favour with God and that sinfulness brings judgement from God. So Job is trying to figure out what he has done to anger God, because he is convinced something is wrong.
It is also important to realize that this situation is completely new to Job. He was a man of prosperity, a man of wealth, popularity, the man that other men turned to when they needed advice or council or support in any way. And he was also a very devout man when it came to his faith. He faithfully prays, he faithfully offers sacrifices to God, he faithfully keeps his heart in line with God’s decrees. If you pay attention to Job’s speeches throughout the book, you will notice that Job does not lament his physical or even his emotional suffering. He laments his spiritual suffering, his seeming separation from God even though he can’t figure out why it is all happening (does that sound familiar at all? I know I’ve been in places where I feel miles away from God and can’t figure out why).
Enter Job’s friends. Be assured right from the get-go that these are three good friends for Job, their reaction to his appearance in chapter 2 tells us that. They truly want to bring comfort and answers to Job, but their answers are pale in comparison to Job’s predicament, and their answers are insufficient in the face of the crisis of faith Job is experiencing. But these three friends of Job give us some insight into our own spiritual assumptions. Let me introduce you to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Each one comes at Job’s problem from a different perspective, but again, all with the same basic belief that prosperity means all is good with God, calamity means one is out of favour with God.
Eliphaz is all about experience. Everything in life can be explained through experience. Life experience, faith experience all we need to know can be found there. Eliphaz make the assumption that his life experience and his faith experience in particular gives him the insight needed to solve Job’s problem. Essentially he spends his first speech telling Job that in his experience, all one has to do is seek God long and hard enough and God will make the answers known. This is a bit of a jab at Job, implying that Job has not truly been seeking out God and that he truly is hiding some unconfessed thing from God. Job’s best hope is to truly wait on God to give him an answer. We know, of course from the introduction to the story, that Eliphaz is dead wrong about why Job is experiencing this calamity.
Bildad is all about tradition and orthodoxy. What do the teachings of the past tell us, what does the wisdom of our forefathers tell us. Bildad is a champion of orthodoxy. This perspective gives great guidance in doctrine and can be very valuable to the believer. But, Bildad and his reliance on the past, is detrimental to the one who is experiencing a fresh movement of God’s spirit. The one who is rooted in tradition is of no help when God is seeking to move in a different way and in a new direction, as he is with Job, because Bildad cannot see God in any way but what his orthodoxy tells him is possible. In Bildad’s orthodoxy, Job has already been found guilty by God because punishment has already been doled out.
Finally, Zophar is all about common sense. The love and power of God are not mysteries to be pondered, they are simple truth. Just believe and get on with it is Zophar’s philosophy. That why he enters the picture enraged in chapter 11. Job has just finished a very impassioned plea to God at the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10. He is a man overwhelmed by the immensity of God’s power and yet he has no understanding of that power. His one plea to God in chapter 10 is to understand why God’s power is suddenly against him for he gains no comfort in God’s power at this point in the book, it just strikes terror and confusion in his heart. But when Zophar hears Job’s plea, it enrages his sensibilities. How dare Job try to figure out God. All Job has to do is to set his heart aright and pray and put away iniquity (11:13f.) and all will be perfectly all right.
None of these perspective are of no help to Job. But they can be helpful to us. For we find all three of these perspectives in our churches and they can all be very dangerous because they all put God in a box and seek to throw away the key. In Job’s responses to his friends, we find one who is looking to go past experience and take off the lens of the past and dive past what is common sense into the mysteries of God; to understand God in a new way through the lens of one who is suffering. Really that is the difference here. Job, one of the wise, one of the orthodox ones, is experiencing something that neither his experience nor his dogma nor his common sense can explain or comprehend. We must be careful when putting God in our boxes!
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Job 14-16