Reflections on Job and the Problem of Suffering
Part II: Job’s Friends
At this point, Job has suffered a lot. He’s lost everything and he’s covered in boils (Ouch!). Job has 3 friends that come and sit with him to mourn all that has happened to him: Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar. Later, he’ll be joined by another man named Elihu.
After Job has spent enough time (about a week) in silence with his friends, he opens his mouth to say he wishes he was never born (Job 3). To “comfort” him, Eliphaz speaks up and says Job must have sinned and that’s why all of this has happened to him (Job 4). Eliphaz is following a traditional understanding that good will be rewarded and sin will be punished.
Job claims he’s innocent and the four of them go back and forth debating how either Job is wrong to claim innocence or God is unjust. Here is when we should begin to realize how we move between these two options in our own lives and as a church.
Christians want to say God is always just, which we should say. However, suffering is rampant, and it seems like the evildoers get off without correction and the good doers (Did I just create a phrase?) get the lion’s share of pain.
Often when others come to tell us of their suffering, we can sound like the friends and ask, “Well, what did you do wrong to deserve this?” rather than validating their human experience. Notice, Job’s friends did sit with him and mourn (good!) but once Job cursed his birth, they took that as permission to start throwing accusations and digging into his personal life. I think the friends were good intentioned and I think we are trying to be well meaning too, but often we feel the need to defend God when those suffering start turning the blame toward God rather than let them express their pain. As we’ll see, God can defend God’s self.
Elihu (who makes it known how old everyone else is compared to him) decides to step in in chapter 32. Elihu is one of those characters you either love or hate, some think he answers better than the rest and others see him as the most arrogant of the bunch. He tells us exactly why he’s chosen to speak up though, “He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong” (Job 32:2–3). Elihu doesn’t seem to like mystery, he’d rather just have the answers. This reminds me of how we’ve turned the whole book of Job into the answer to suffering (it’s not) because mystery is uncomfortable, and we’d rather have things be black and white.
Nowhere else in the friends do we see a stronger desire to defend God than in Elihu. Job’s friends all think he’s done something wrong, but they can’t prove it. Elihu doesn’t care to have tangible proof, he has heard Job speak wrongly of God, therefore Job is in the wrong (see Job 33:12).
After Elihu’s long speech, God appears in a whirlwind, prepared to deliver God’s own response. This is where we’ll pick up in part III.
A short summary and recap so far:
· Job says he’s innocent and doesn’t deserve his suffering (Which we know from part I, he’s right).
· His friends argue that this can’t be because it goes against God being just.
· The young Elihu rebukes everyone for being in the wrong. Job is wrong because he’s spoken against God, and the friends are wrong for not being able to tell Job why he’s wrong.
· God shows up in dramatic fashion, prepared to offer a new perspective from above.
Until the next post, read a few of Job and the others’ arguments between Job 3–37!