The questions that Job and his friends discuss are still some of the most thorny question facing mankind, especially believers. Both believers and non-believers often still subscribe to the position that bad things (evil) should not happen to innocent people. That bad should only happen to bad people. Yet that is clearly not the experience or observation that many of us have had. Sometimes good things happen to bad people, and good people often suffer. And because what we see doesn’t make good sense to us as humans, we melt down in a crisis of faith. Surely, if God is “there” such a thing wouldn’t happen. Where is God, when I suffer? Conversely, shouldn’t I be rewarded for doing good?
Eliphaz and his friends are going to make a case for the point of view that says that the innocent do not suffer. They will be trying hard to make the point, in order to persuade Job to repent of the sin that he “obviously” committed, so that he can find forgiveness and restoration from God. The hard thing about the things that they will be saying is that some of the things that they’ll say have just enough truth in them to make them persuasive, but not enough to make them true. This makes the reading of Job not just a meditation on the topic of suffering, but an exercise in critical thinking. “Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (4:17). It’s true, but wouldn’t that make all of us in trouble with God, yet Job is the one suffering, not Eliphaz.
Yet Eliphaz is on a mission to get Job to see his catastrophe as discipline from God, due to some sin found in Job. “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal.” (5:17,18).
Behold, we have investigated it, and so it is. — Part of Eliphaz’s and friends’ point of persuasion here is to convince Job that it’s always this way; they’ve investigated it! But sometimes our observations are kind of limited. I’ve a Pakistani friend who calls such people “frogs in a well” — the well is their whole world and they know little if anything at all about the real outside world. It’s easy, for example, to be rich and broad brush poor folks as irresponsible, wasteful, lazy, or criminal. It’s an insulated world, a frog in a well.
There should be kindness — Job is apparently shocked at the accusations of his friends and rebukes them for adding to his burden and eroding his faith in God. We too should be careful with our words to those who are suffering. It can be easy to, with the best of intentions, to be unkind — I’ve known a few people like that, I imagine you know a few yourself.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.