By Archbishop Philip Freier
1 September 2022
“Agree with God and be at peace; in this way good will come to you”. These are words from the Book of Job spoken by Eliphaz the Temanite to the anguished servant of God (Job 22:21). Throughout the many discourses in the book, it is plain that Job is not at peace and is in contention with God over his predicament. Despite the eminent good sense in the advice from Eliphaz along with the two other interlocutors, Zophar and Bildad, it is Job – not these three – who are justified in God’s sight. In fact the LORD says to Eliphaz, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken to me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7).
There is much wisdom that can be learned in this profound book. At the very least, it invites us to consider the important place that authenticity has in our relationship with God. It is not that the three friends speak rubbish to Job, their words are rich with wisdom. The point is often reached that their words do not meet Job’s need or match his own emotional and spiritual state. To Bildad’s “Dominion and fear are with God; he makes peace in his high heaven,” (25:1) Job answers, “How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength! How you have counselled one who has no wisdom and given such good advice!” (26:2,3). Each simple offering of wisdom is relentlessly turned back by Job as not meeting his situation, his need.
Job is in his own way the apostle of authenticity. He relentlessly rejects the simple wisdom that is told him by the three friends and grapples with the profound depth of his own situation and what that means for his relationship with God. In the beginning words of the book, Job is put forward by God as the exemplar of godly life: “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil’” (1:8). The cascade of misfortune that unfolds pushes Job to a place of desperation where he “cursed the day of his birth” (3:1).
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Like Job’s three friends, we can easily feel that we struggle to make an impact on the suffering of people we care about. They cared about Job and sought to “console and comfort him” in his despair, even if their efforts went unaffirmed by Job and were found wanting by God. Undoubtedly their engagement with him helped him navigate the depths of his despair and to find the place of peace and good with God that the book concludes with as its closing scene.
Sometimes our suffering and the suffering of others makes any of the “best efforts” seem ineffective. I take assurance from this confirmation that, however awful things are or however despairing we feel, God remains engaged with us and meets us in our need. God, never shrinking from our disputation and alienation, meets us with the peace and good that we so crave.