Warning: This One Left Me Unsettled

(I do not usually post my Bible studies but this past lesson in Job left me unsettled. Read as you will. Let me know if it bothers you, as well. Thank you.)

Job protests his innocence and asks for sympathy.

It doesn’t take long to see there is a pattern to the book of Job. At first, each friend speaks in turn, and in turn Job replies to him. Eliphaz has begun mildly, not accusing Job directly of being a great sinner, but implying that he is like the fool who defies God and so is weak and wicked.

Job is not fooled, so in this text, he insists on bringing it into the open so the truth can be seen.

Job’s first response to the words of Eliphaz was to remind him about the greatness of his suffering, because Eliphaz has only made his suffering worse, with his well-intentioned but flawed analysis of Job’s problem.

First, he justifies himself for his extravagant outcry in chapter 3.

In Job’s outburst in Job 3 did not curse God, though he did come close.  Job here admitted that his words were indeed rash but explained that it was because of his excessive grief.

“Job declared, in effect, that Eliphaz did not understand the cry because he did not know the pain.” (Morgan) That is perhaps the greatest truth of dealing with people in great pain. There is no way we can empathize with their pain and they know it.

Two things drew such words from him.

First, the sheer weight of his suffering, which none of his friends can estimate (6:2-3).

Job 6:2-3
2  “I wish my suffering could be weighed and my misery put on scales. 3  My sadness would be heavier than the sand of the seas. No wonder my words seem careless.

Secondly, the fact that he believed it was God himself who was inflicting these sufferings on him (6:4).

Job 6:4
4  The arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are gathered against me.

Job explained why his suffering was so deep and his words were so rash. It was as if God Himself had attacked and cursed him.

“There is a reference here to wounds inflicted by poisoned arrows, and to the burning fever occasioned by such wounds, producing such an intense parching thirst as to dry up all the moisture in the system, stop all the salivary ducts, thicken and inflame the blood, induce infection, and terminate in raging mania, producing the most terrifying images, from which the victim is relieved only by death.”

We note that, like his friends, Job agrees that the sufferings have come from God: the point in dispute is whether they have come as punishment for personal sin.

Job reasons that there is always a reason for the cries of animals; when they are satisfied, they are silent. “So there is a reason for my cry in my distress”(6:5).

Job 6:5
5  A wild donkey does not bray when it has grass to eat, and an ox is quiet when it has feed.

The meaning of 6:6-7 is a clear reference to flavorless food, but is Job referring to the words of Eliphaz?

Job 6:6-7
6  Tasteless food is not eaten without salt, and there is no flavor in the white of an egg. 7  I refuse to touch it; such food makes me sick.

His sufferings are like a continuous meal of tasteless food which he cannot endure?  Tasting such food is distasteful but to know that is what you will eat the rest of your life is beyond painful.

“The speech, also, to which Job had listened from Eliphaz the Temanite was devoid of sympathy and consolation. He had spoken as harshly and severely as if he were a judge addressing a criminal who was suffering no more than he deserved.”

Next Job desires God to end his life and so relieve him of his pain. If he knew that this could be so, he would bear his pain cheerfully, since he does not fear death as much as rebelling against God (6:8-10).

Job 6:8-10
8  “How I wish that I might have what I ask for and that God would give me what I hope for. 9  How I wish God would crush me and reach out his hand to destroy me. 10  Then I would have this comfort and be glad even in this unending pain, because I would know I did not reject the words of the Holy One.

Though Job never seems to have contemplated suicide, he determined that only God Himself could end his life.

Consider these words of a commentator that I respect:

“When the answer does not come, when instead of release, we have a continuity of pain, and a great silence, then let us remember this: that there is some explanation, and that when it comes, we shall thank God that He did not give us our request.” (Morgan)

Here Job again insists on his basic innocence before God. The calamity in his life was not due to some sin such as concealing the words of the Holy One (perhaps better translated as that I had not denied the words of the Holy One).

“He had one consolation left before he died – that he had not denied the words of the Holy One, though he emphatically rejected the words of Eliphaz.” (Smick)

But he fears what may happen to his inner attitude if his weak body has to go on suffering indefinitely (6:11-13).

Job 6:11-13
11  “I do not have the strength to wait. There is nothing to hope for, so why should I be patient? 12  I do not have the strength of stone; my flesh is not bronze. 13  I have no power to help myself, because success has been taken away from me.

He addresses his friends directly: “You disappoint me. In my fever you should have been as cooling ice-water, but I am like a traveler in the desert who counts on finding water in the usual places, and now it has vanished in the sand”

“The words of Job can us all bring immense comfort for the simple reason that many sufferers have felt rage but have been too ashamed to express it.” (Smick)

Job 6:14-19
14  “They say, ’A man’s friends should be kind to him when he is in trouble, even if he stops fearing the Almighty.’ 15  But my brothers cannot be counted on. They are like streams that do not always flow, streams that sometimes run over. 16  They are made dark by melting ice and rise with melting snow. 17  But they stop flowing in the dry season; they disappear when it is hot. 18  Travelers turn away from their paths and go into the desert and die. 19  The groups of travelers from Tema look for water, and the traders of Sheba look hopefully.

Job accused them of being as unreliable as a snow-fed stream that vanishes when it is hot.

Job here made his most basic accusation against Eliphaz. “You should show me kindness, even if it were true that I had forsaken the fear of the Almighty.”

“I did not ask you for some sacrificial gift, but only for sympathy (6:14-23).

Job 6:20-23
20  They are upset because they had been sure; when they arrive, they are disappointed. 21  You also have been no help. You see something terrible, and you are afraid. 22  I have never said, ’Give me a gift. Use your wealth to pay my debt. 23  Save me from the enemy’s power. Buy me back from the clutches of cruel people.’

Instead you gave me rebukes for my words, as wild as the wind, rebukes which show how hard and unsympathetic you are. Tell me exactly what I have done wrong (6:24-30).”

Verse 21 is the climax of Job’s reaction to his friends’ counsel. They offered no help. The verse speaks about the special strength needed to be willing to make oneself available when we see others in a truly dreadful condition. The risk involved makes us afraid.” (Smick)

Job wasn’t asking his friends to pay him money or to ransom him from kidnappers. All he wanted was some words of comfort, and he heard none.

Job 6:24-30
24  “Teach me, and I will be quiet. Show me where I have been wrong. 25  Honest words are painful, but your arguments prove nothing. 26  Do you mean to correct what I say? Will you treat the words of a troubled man as if they were only wind? 27  You would even gamble for orphans and would trade away your friend. 28  “But now please look at me. I would not lie to your face. 29  Change your mind; do not be unfair; think again, because my innocence is being questioned. 30  What I am saying is not wicked; I can tell the difference between right and wrong.

Job believed that Eliphaz was unduly harsh in his reply and failed to see that Job’s rant was only words from a desperate soul.

“Throughout the dialogue they make veiled accusations, deliver general moral pronouncements, hum and haw, and equivocate. But all their insinuations are without substance, and by way of actually identifying and getting at the root of Job’s problem . . . the best they can do is suggest that his ‘attitude’ is all wrong.” (Mason)

Eliphaz, in his insensitivity, acted as if Job’s words were as wind. “Do you take me for a desperate and distracted man, who knows not or cares not what he saith, but only speaks what comes first into his mind and mouth? The wind is oft used to express vain words.

Instead of comforting Job, Eliphaz was as bad as someone who would overwhelm the fatherless and undermine his friend. “Now he seems to retaliate with charges of his own: You would even gamble over an orphan and bargain over your friend. This is pretty rough stuff. There is no more indication that the friends gambled for orphans than there is that Job asked for bribes. Perhaps this is what Job is getting at. They were seeing things that weren’t there. But their relationship has certainly deteriorated if they are already swapping insults like this.” (Andersen)

Now therefore, be pleased to look at me: “Here it appears that throughout Job’s speech the friends have been hanging their heads and refusing to meet his gaze, while in an odd reversal of roles the sick man now holds his head high and looks his sleek and healthy inquisitors straight in the eye.” (Mason)

Yes, concede, my righteousness still stands! Job very much wanted Eliphaz and his other friends to see that his present calamity was not a judgment for some grievous (though hidden) sin.

The words “teach me,” “cause me,” “what does your arguing prove,” and “concede” are all demands for evidence and proof. “He turns to Eliphaz and says, ‘You say that I’m suffering because of sin, but you’ve never pointed anything out specifically. Teach me and tell me what my sin is. But until you do, there’s no proof of your argument.” (Lawson)

I want to end with an honest confession of a brave author.

What is it about pain that makes us want to run in the other direction?

I’m not talking about when we experience pain ourselves (although we’re not rousing fans of that either). I’m talking about when someone in our lives is in the throws of deep suffering and we’d rather watch episodes of Ready Set Cook than check in.

These aren’t pint-size pains like Martha the arthritic senior, Samuel who just broke up with his girlfriend, or friend whose cat passed away. Those are on the ‘manageable’ side of the pain spectrum, and thus much easier to wade into. Not so hurtful, easy to get over. It’s fairly simple to be there for your friend amidst this sort of low-impact pain.

I’m talking about the heart-wrenching, stomach-churning, wail-producing sort of pain that leaves you with a metaphysical conviction that life is just not fair. I’m talking about high-impact pain. Some examples include:

Your young cousin just lost his sweet wife to swift and merciless cancer.

Your co-worker loses her first born to a miscarriage in the third trimester.

Your niece, completely in love with her fiancé, was left at the altar. For her best friend.

Your friend has had chronic, undiagnosed pain for the last 3 years. You can see in her eyes that she is suffering deeply and has lost hope.

Your well-meaning, genuinely kind, hard-working uncle just lost this third job in 5 years. The shame of telling his family is more than he can bear.

Your neighbor’s teenage son was just killed by a drunk driver.

A relative very publicly lost her marriage due to infidelity. There were kids involved. You hear she hasn’t left her bed in weeks.

A family friend who has been deeply depressed for months has just been hospitalized on account of trying to end his own life.

In all of the above scenarios you’re faced with the same question: do I call, visit, reach out? Essentially, do I engage?

If your answer every time is a resounding yes, well then, you are incredible. You are courageous and kind. The world does not deserve you.

If you’re like me, you’re ashamed to admit that on your bad days, the answer to this question is no. The reaction of many to high-impact suffering is to avoid. You know you should want to check in and provide comfort, but deep down, you’d rather not. You’d rather curl up under a blanket and not face them. Then you feel guilty that you don’t want to reach out, which makes it 1000x worse.

You find stupidly meaningless things to do instead of contacting them. Re-organizing your silverware drawer. Binging on Netflix. Looking at houses you can’t afford on Zillow. Stalking high school acquaintances on social media. Meanwhile, in your head, the lies you tell yourself to help deal with your own cowardice include:

If I reach out when I don’t want to, it wouldn’t be genuine concern. I’d be faking it. I don’t want to be a fake. They deserve better than a fake.

They probably have so many other *more genuine* people checking in, so if I don’t, my absence won’t be felt.

Or probably the worst of them all…

I want to respect their privacy during this hard time. Sounds good, but it’s more self-congratulatory than helpful.

(None of these, btw, are the real reason)

So, we don’t reach out.

We distance. We ignore. And then so much time passes that it now feels awkward to engage — even if the pain, scandal, or loss has now passed. The giant elephant in the room — I wasn’t there when you needed me — makes it easier to continue our Avoidance Campaign. Regret gives birth to shame. So we soldier on, valiantly, in the shadows. Only to wake up one morning and realize a year has passed. I-don’t-know-how-to-approach-this-person-in-their-pain has suddenly morphed into I-shunned-a-person-who-was-suffering.

It’s inexcusable and unsettling. We’re left wondering How could I be so awful? Is there hope for a meaningful relationship with this person going forward? How on earth will I show my face to them again?

Hint: we usually don’t.

Michael

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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