Stop Speaking for God

Here’s a question: Can anything good come out of the mouths of Job’s friends? I don’t know about you, but I occasionally find myself thinking (dismissively), “Yes, but one of Job’s friends said that.” The subtext is that we can safely skim over what they said and then move on. The three friends, however, had some extraordinarily good theology; it just happens to have been misapplied.

The three “friends,” “comforters,” or whatever we label those well-meaning fellows, arrived from afar in order to weep, mourn, and sit silently with Job. Their intentions were noble—until they started to speak! After they sat silently with Job for a whole week, Job set them back on their heels with a deeply troubling lament. In response, the first two friends tried to cajole Job into confession and repentance, but he would have none of it. His response was to ask why God was so cruelly oppressing him, which had left him longing for the darkness of the grave.

What do we say in response to that kind of raw pain? When we find ourselves in such circumstances, we stumble about, trying to be “meaningful” in our comforting. Toward that same end, Zophar ventured in, declaring that God is utterly transcendent and all-powerful beyond the highest heaven and the depths of the grave. This is true, but a gnawing question remains: how can we really wrap our minds (and hearts) around this majestic, sovereign transcendence of God? And then how do we talk about it, especially when we are face to face with seemingly interminable agony? How can we assure suffering friends that our God is both exalted far above all earthly powers and, at the same time, relentlessly and intimately loving? What comfort lies in that combination?

Zophar’s next words head down the path we so often take. Having professed the mystery of God’s ways, Zophar proceeded to speak for God, promising an array of hopeful results—if Job would just confess his sins!

It is no wonder Job was unimpressed. At the same time, he picked up on the most important part of what Zophar said and fleshed out his own perspective on it. Job indeed knew that nothing in God’s universe was outside God’s control, but he had come to know the dark side of that—devastation of land, degradation of the rich and powerful, whole nations destroyed and dispersed. The upshot for Job was that God was responsible for his suffering in that He allowed it. This is bold honesty. And that is where we need to be, frightening as it might actually be to say (and hear) these things. But we must remember that in the end, God affirmed what Job had said (Job 42:7–8). May that be a profound encouragement to us as we wrestle with how to express the truth of suffering.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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