Job’s opening discourse was a simple lament. And an understandable one – “I wish I had never been born”. I’ve uttered those words in dark moments, and no doubt many if not all who are reading this have as well – at one time or another. Sometimes the pain, and especially the meaninglessness of pain coupled with no prospect of relief drives us to despair of life and simply to want the suffering to end more than anything else.
Suffering can eclipse all other reality. A telling event in the book of Exodus give us some insight into this truth. In Exodus 6, after Moses had approached Pharaoh for the first time asking to let God’s people go, Pharaoh wanted to teach the Jews a lesson. So Pharaoh made their labors all the worse by commanding the Jews to gather their own straw, while keeping up the same quota of making bricks. It was harsh and oppressive and the people felt it keenly on top of their existing slave conditions. So Moses went back to tell the people it would be OK, God WOULD deliver them if they trusted Him. There the text notes: Exodus 6:9 “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” Many a good man and woman grows deaf to genuinely good news when the suffering is severe. So with Job.
It is in response to Job’s initial lament that Eliphaz the Temanite makes his first attempt to address Job – and in substance he will say: “You wouldn’t be suffering like this if you weren’t guilty of SOME sin. He will open the door to what will be the main line of reasoning from all three of Job’s friends.
Eliphaz’s discourse is contained in chapters 5 and 6, and the run of his argument goes like this:
4:1-6 / Job, you’ve counseled others to be patient in hardship, now you be patient while I counsel you.
4:7-11 / Here’s the basic reality you need to grasp Job – no one suffers without cause; without a connection to sin.
4:12-21 / And while we both know this Job, I want to tell you that the Lord has even spoken to me about this – I’ve received a vision. In the vision a spirit passed in front of me (and it was frightening) and said: ‘Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?’ (vs. 17) from which I gather this Job – there’s no one without guilt, so this circumstance must fit into that category too.
5:1-7 / Look, you know I’m right. Affliction doesn’t just spring up out of the soil.
5:8-16 / My advice? Go to God Job. If you repent, all will be well.
5:17 / Make your confession, take your licks, and you’ll be restored.
5:27 / I and the others have thought this through Job. We’ve done the study – and this is the way it is. Take your medicine.
And so ends the first “comfort” Job is to receive from his friends. And I wonder how many of us have thought such things if not said them, when someone near us has suffered unusually and inexplicably? How quick we are to put it all in a neat box – and leave precious little room for the grace of God in Christ to our ailing brothers and sisters. Lord, preserve me from being such a “comforter”. THE Comforter knows infinitely better, by turning other’s eyes to Christ, rather than to their performance, or lack thereof.