Friday, May 27, 2011

Job Versus Eliphaz: Round One

With friends like Eliphaz, who needs enemies?

So Job's life has been stripped bare.  He has lost all of his family except his wife.  He has lost all his livestock and wealth.  He has even lost his health.  Hearing of his plight, three friends come to visit Job.  They are so shocked by what they find that they sit with him for seven days and seven nights.  Sometimes a true friend knows a silent presence is more comforting than words.

So, you think Job's three friends are going to be helpful.  You'd be wrong.  Job tells his friends how miserable he is, that he wishes he had never been born.  Things couldn't possibly get worse...at least until Eliphaz opens his mouth.

Now remember, this is a wisdom literature book, so Eliphaz decides to impart some wisdom on to Job.  He tells Job that people reap what they sow.  He says that innocent people don't suffer.  Lions perish without prey, after all.  If there is nothing to be punished, punishment goes away.  So, if Eliphaz was Job, he would make sure his life was right with God.  He'd do whatever it took, because when one is faithful to God, God is faithful to you.  If Job's life was right with God he could laugh through famines, because he would be fine.  Blessings come to those who are righteous.  The opposite must equally be true.  Since Job's life is not blessed, Job has some repenting to do.

Suffering has a way of cutting through the superficial crap we tell ourselves to try to make sense of life, and Job knows all about suffering.  Eliphaz's argument doesn't hold water, and any of us who know people that have truly suffered know this.  At the same time, his simplistic view is always tempting.  It's easy to think that the poor must be lazy while the rich must be hard working.  It's easy to think that the person who has the job wanted it more or tried harder to get it.  It's easy to compartmentalize all addicts into the weak category while putting people without addictions into the self-controlled category.  Of course, all this ignores that purity is usually due to lack of opportunity.  This ignores that many times a company's financial report, rather than the employees themselves, is what influences who has a job and who doesn't.  It also ignores that most of the super rich are born into their money and it has nothing at all to do with work ethic.  Eliphaz's way of seeing the world makes it easily understandable, but there's not much to it, and that is why he doesn't like being around Job.

Job calls Eliphaz's bluff.  In the middle of saying that Eliphaz's friendship is like ice that melts in summer, Job says this:

"They are disappointed because they were confident; they come there and are confounded.  Such you have now become to me; you see my calamity, and are afraid." -Job 6:20-21

Eliphaz's type of "wisdom" offers easy confidence, which is why so many people buy into it.  However, in the face of true tragedy, tragedy that falls upon the righteous and godly, such wisdom is confounded.  Lives like Job's life unsettle us and make us afraid because suddenly all our simple answers fall to dust and slip through our fingers.  In the end, we discover we're much more like Eliphaz than we'd like to admit.  We don't have any more answers than anyone else.

We need to be more like Job.  At least he admits he doesn't get it.  In a fallen world, ourselves fallen, how could we get it?

Stopping point: Job 7

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