I read (well listened to) Job yesterday and it has rung in my ears for two days. I understand that the book of Job as a critic of classic religious answers to the challenging, tough situations of life. In chapter 3, Job is lamenting the day of his birth given the sorrow of his losses and personal pain brought on by a contest between Satan and God. This lament is made in the presence of his ‘friends’ who have sat silently for 7 days.
His friend, Eliphaz, is the first to respond and offer comment (read rebuttal). His argument goes something like this. Hey man, when things were good for you, you had great advice for others. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, you are not so much help. Oh, and you know that stuff like what you are experiencing happens only to people who deserve it.
And there is the first theological position addressed by the author. Bad things happen to bad people, or at least deserving people. So Job, Eliphaz is arguing, acknowledge your guilt, confess your sin(s) and all will be well. At book’s end we learn that this is fallacy. Bad things happening and the type of person we are is not connected, directly or indirectly.
I know that to be true. I have attempted to make that connection a part of my personal theology. I don’t want to judge someone’s character based on the circumstances of their life. Yet, I do. We all do.
Sometimes we hear of someone who is chronically sick. “Well, if they had enough faith they would be healed.” Or, “They must have some secret sin then need to repent of.” Maybe a family has a series of bad things happen and we assume they must need to learn some lesson God is trying to teach them. There are times when we look at the person on the corner holding a sign and say to ourselves, “I think they should just get a job. I’m not giving them anything.” Maybe they have a nice dog, or better tennis shoes than we have. Maybe they look strong and fit and could work. And they probably can. But maybe they can’t. Yet I have labelled them as lazy, crazy, or something else.
Or perhaps there is a homeless camp near us. If those people (and there is a dangerous phrase if I every wrote one) had made better choices, saved their money, not run up their credit cards, not whatever or done such and so, they wouldn’t have been in that place. And the truth is, people are there because of bad choices. Not all though. Many of us are just a couple of friends, a good family, and good fortune from joining them. Get sick while on a minimum, part-time wage and see how long we would last without help before we joined them in our car.
The book of Job is an in-your-face challenging book. The author, using the voices of Job’s friends, takes down our classic, our favorite excuses for why people like Job suffer. We know why Job suffers, but Job doesn’t. His wife doesn’t. His friends’ don’t. And we are in the same place as Job, as his wife, and as his friends when we face the suffering, the pain, the heartache of this fallen world. So is all suffering due to a contest between Satan and God? Is suffering sometimes the consequence of our poor choices, or bad character? Is sin at the heart? What in the world is really going on? My answer to many such questions is I don’t know. Job reminds me that it is above my pay grade to know all the answers.
In the end those who came to help Job didn’t. Maybe the real lesson of Job is to be a help, a real help. How? Those first 7 days may be the best thing his friends did for him.