Job responds differently to each of his counselors. Eliphaz gets him mad. Sure, Job heard everything that Eliphaz had to say, but he certainly didn’t listen because of his “anguish of spirit.” He feels that “if his anguish could be weighed, it would outweigh the sand of the seas.”
Even an animal will complain when its food is unpalatable, “so don’t condemn me for crying out; nature must be allowed relief.” Then he goes on to state he wishes God would indeed “destroy him like a moth.” At least that would be better than what he had right now! “But I’ll tell you what, if he did do that, then I would still have this one consolation—this one joy in my unrelenting pain—that I did not deny the words of the Holy One.”
Job’s response to his friend’s callous words is a heartrending plea for mercy. Eliphaz seems to be arguing for a kind of balance-scales theology, a tit-for-tat religion in which we do things for God and then He does things for us in return. Just as virtuous deeds can, according to this view, be traded with God for tangible benefits, so all of Job’s misfortune should be able to be set right by a proper, formal repentance. In Eliphaz’s mind, everything about the spiritual life can be computed, totaled up, and kept straight and tidy.
However, suffering is not like that; it is not tidy and mathematical. Neither is grace, for that matter. Neither are any of the great mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. By their very nature, spiritual realities are untidy. Think of how shocked Jesus’ disciples were when He first began teaching them about the necessity of drinking His blood! “This is hard teaching,” they complained. “Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). The mysteries of eternal life are untidy because they are infinite and immeasurable. The blood of Jesus could not be kept neatly inside His body; it had to be spilled out. What was meant to cover the whole earth could not be contained for long in an earthen vessel. As Peter wrote, “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (I Peter 1:18-19). Things that are perfect and eternal overflow the world’s containers; they upset the world’s apple carts; they invalidate the world’s balance scales. After all, it is not as though the atoning sacrifice of Jesus merely outweighed the sin of the world; much more than that, the cross of Christ canceled sin entirely.
Very few of us could address suffering in the way that Alexander Solzhenitzyn did when he spoke of his experience in the Gulag: “Bless you, prison . . . for it was in you that I discovered that the meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.”
No balance-scales view of God’s judgment can ever account for such a wonder. In the same way, no human effort of will—even the will to repent in dust and ashes—can ever reconcile itself to God or take even the tiniest step towards Him. As Paul wrote in Romans 11:35 (paraphrasing, in fact, the Lord’s own words to Job in 41:11), “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him?” The love of God is not a matter of calculation and accounting. The trouble with Eliphaz and the other friends is that their thinking leaves no room for unmerited grace. Not only is the cross not at the center of their theology—it is not there at all. While Job holds to faith alone in the midst of his suffering, his friends seem to spend their energies doing the very opposite, seeking to avoid suffering altogether and doing so in the name of faith. As Job summarizes their attitude later in this chapter, “You see something dreadful and are afraid.”
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