Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 3: Thursday
Last week I read Job’s lament of anguish in chapter 3 and began Eliphaz’ reply in chapter 4. Today’s Bible reading is Job 5–6. Eliphaz finishes his reply in chapter 5, and Job begins his rejoinder in chapter 6.
Eliphaz’ reply to Job could serve as the ultimate illustration of rubbing salt in a wound. In chapter 4, he starts by saying, “If one ventures a word with you, will you become impatient?” and then he lectures Job: you’ve helped many with your words, but now trouble has come to you. He goes on to say:
“Is not your fear of God your confidence,
And the integrity of your ways your hope?
Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?
Or where were the upright destroyed?”
Eliphaz presumes Job’s sin, and he ends his speech with the admonition, “Behold this; we have investigated it, and so it is. Hear it, and know for yourself.” What a cold, hard thing to say to a friend in anguish. E. S. P. Heavenor writes:
“There is no acknowledgment of the extraordinary submission to God Job has already shown (e.g. in 1:21 and 2:10). There is no clear word of sympathy in all his words. Strahan refers to him as ‘a theologian chilled by his creed’. He resembles a commander urging soldiers who have been exhausted by struggling against fearful odds to still more resolute endeavor, without a word of praise of what has already been accomplished.”1
In chapter 6, Job begins by answering the charge of impatience. He knows he has spoken rashly, but his grief and calamity are crushing him with their weight. He asserts his integrity, while his protest in his suffering expresses feelings shared by all who have felt pushed beyond their ability to endure.
“Is my strength the strength of stones,
Or is my flesh bronze?”
And he remonstrates:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
Lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
As I wrote last week, his friends search for a defect in Job to explain his suffering—not to alleviate his anguish, but to relieve their own fears of enduring incomprehensible adversity. Job astutely diagnoses their motivation in verse 21: “You see a terror and are afraid.” He has not been heard with compassion or with understanding.
“Do you intend to reprove my words,
When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?”
It can be a difficult task to learn to listen and discern whether or not we are hearing words for the wind. Our own suffering and knowledge of our own weakness and dependence on God’s grace help us to do this. You have to get to know someone, listen with love and pray with intensity. You have to be willing to go into someone’s valley and walk together, lending an arm over the rough rocks in the dark.
I was reading the blog of a daughter of friends. She’s recently been through surgery, and she wrote:
“…while comparison is the enemy of contentment, (it leads either to envy or pride), community is the friend of comfort.”
Community is the friend of comfort. Sometimes we find others who have been in the community of suffering, but sometimes we need those who have not been through deep suffering to love us enough to enter ours. While pious words present a façade of spirituality, there is no comfort there for pain.
Listen with love for God and for the one who is speaking. Listen with prayer, asking God for wisdom not to break the battered reed. Let words of despair go with the wind, and with love, give words of care and consolation.
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1E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds.,
A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., p. 426.
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Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter