Thoughts on Job and Eliphaz

Today’s Bible reading was NOT from Genesis, but from Job! (This is part of the reason I love reading the Bible chronologically — it totally makes sense that the story of Job is old, but I never thought about it!)

Anyway. Today I read the first five chapters of Job, and there is some SERIOUS food for thought in here. Here are a few of my thoughts (and questions):

  • As always, I am immensely curious about the brief mentions (in 1:6 and 2:1) given to the angels and Satan (who apparently tags along to the Weekly Angelic Council Meeting?? What???). I wish there was more in the Bible about all that angelic backstory… though I’m guessing the lack of information has given rise to many, many wonderful works of fiction. =)
  • Poor Job!! I mean, I remembered that Job really got pooped on (yes, that’s a literary term…) in this story, but MAN! I had forgotten that the four messengers LITERALLY arrive back-to-back, each successive one entering while the previous finishes speaking, to tell Job that “All your oxen/donkeys/sheep/camels/servants/CHILDREN are dead, and I am the only one who escaped to tell you!” OUCH!
  • Job impresses me.Like Atticus Finch. Even after his wife in her grief sort of “tempts” him to “curse God and die”, he simply replies, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” Wow.
  • And then, there’s Eliphaz. Oh, Eliphaz. This would be Job’s “friend”, the first of the three to give him “friendly advice” about how to deal with his situation. He’s pretty much a pompous arse. He basically sits with Job for a while and then says, “Well, since bad things are ALWAYS punishment from God, you must have done something wrong to deserve this. So just confess and accept God’s correction.” Wow. This is his word-for-word quote at the end of his speech: “We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.” UGH. He’s so arrogant and assured of his own theology that he assumes he can instantly diagnose Job’s problems, tell him what God’s doing, and then lecture him on how he should get with the program when all his children were just murdered. Ick, ick, ick. I have probably done something like this when someone I knew was dealing with grief…. but I really hope I haven’t. And/or that I never do it again!

So, the moral of today’s story, children, is that you can’t use human theology to put God in a box, and you ESPECIALLY should not do this when someone is going through grief or hard times, because it only makes them feel worse. I am very much looking forward to the rest of Job. I don’t recall exactly what lovely rationales the other two friends use that are supposed to explain Job’s suffering for him. But I’m sure they will be instructive.

What are your thoughts?


5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Job and Eliphaz

  1. For a little added craziness: The word translated here as “trouble” is almost always translated as evil:
    So, it MIGHT — emphasis on MIGHT — be more accurate to translate it as the KJV does: “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”
    I don’t know about you, but God doing evil would throw a sticky wicket in my theology… Seminarians and others: Help?
    In fairness, nobody says Job speaks authoritatively here. Perhaps he mistakenly thinks God is capable of doing evil?

    On the bit about passing judgment: 
    “We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.”  — I think I’m in an almost constant state of both gruelingly restraining myself from dumping my conclusions on people, and feeling guilty for standing by silently.


    1.  @DanielSchulzJackson  @RebekahSchulzJackson 
      The question you pose here is the theodicy question, revised.  The classic theodicy question is “why is there evil?”  But, of course, the existence of evil means God <i>allows</i> evil; many would argue that to, say, <i>allow</i> someone to drown when you could save them is the same as drowning them.  Therefore, is God’s allowance of evil a commission of evil?
      Let me begin with this:  Satan is an interesting character.  In classical Hebrew literature, Satan actually <i>would</i> have been part of the council of the gods, as you correctly point out, Rebekah.  Keep in mind, though, this is NOT the Satan of Paradise Lost, or any other modern conception.  This is a deity whose sole purpose is to cause mischief among the people – maybe Loki from Norse mythology is the best analogue.  And it’s actually The Accuser’s <i>job</i> to do this.  Now, classical Christian theological interpretation has made Satan into a deity of EVIL, rather than MISCHIEF, which really changes things, because it puts a lot of blame for evil on “the devil,” where it would NOT have been placed by the authors of much of Scripture.  So yeah, The Accuser is actually just one of the angels, doing the job God has given.
      So for Daniel, I have this paragraph.  Now, Job (the book, not the character) is more forthright; in this book, God is actually committing evil acts (although, again, whether or not this distinction is worth making in the first place is questionable).  Anyway, God assigns this evil to Job because there is a deeper question here, I think, and it is a theological question:  we know that God is in control, and that there is an “Accuser,” but some things seem so beyond the realm of mischief that it just <i>can’t</i> be The Accuser committing those acts; mustn’t they, then, come from God?”  The book of Job says, “Why yes.”  But there is, of course, a caveat, in that it says, “You can’t understand God’s methods or designs, though, so it’s better not to question it.”
      However (and now we’re back to Rebekah), any good literary student will simply take this conclusion, that God’s ways aren’t to be questioned, and return to the beginning of the book, and ask, “So why did God do this again?  What was the great and mysterious design?”  And then they’ll say, “Holy smokes!  God just wants to win a bet!?!?!”
      Now (and we’re back to Daniel), this is an unsettling conclusion, theologically.  I agree.  God just has whims and does “whatever” with our lives, because they’re of no great consequence.  It’s a conclusion with which I’d disagree; but, then, I don’t have any problem with a limited God.  For me, I think it’s a necessary part of creation that, once independent consciousnesses or lives are created, control is lost.  Thus, God simply <i>can’t</i> control everything that happens.  However, I understand that that’s a sentiment with which many people disagree.  So, Daniel, in order to make God’s compassion and love fit into my own theological scheme, it comes at the cost of sacrificing what some see as God’s power (or what I might call “God’s tyranny”); but I understand that not everyone is comfortable with that thought.  It’s my answer to the question of evil, though.


  2. I don’t know how helpful this would be, but this type of passage is exactly what I meant earlier about biblical authors being so focused on one characteristic of God that they come to disturbing conclusions about other of God’s attributes.  The early Hebrews were a small, vulnerable people, and in order to feel some level of confidence that the world made sense, they were under the impression that God HAD to be fully in control.  Also, “God” here was “God of the Hebrews,” as opposed to the Gods/gods that other peoples worshiped.  The Hebrews believed that THEIR God was the most powerful, over all other gods, because that gave them reason to feel safe and protected.  And if God is all-powerful/most-powerful, then God must control everything that happens.  So if something evil happens, then God must be behind it.  Usually, they only thought about evil things happening to their enemies, so it became easy to come up with a rule of how the world works:  bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people.  This perspective is dominant in the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and of course there are plenty of examples of it being true (from the Israelites’ persective) in those books.  But it’s not like no one good ever has anything bad happen to them.  And when those bad things happened, people were not satisfied by the conventional wisdom of the Deuteronomistic History.  So they wrote down their dissenting wisdom, as we find in Job:  Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.  How can we reconcile our concept of God to take that into account?  Now they had to figure out if God was really in control of everything, vs. maybe there’s another explanation for those bad things.
    That was rambly.  Sorry.  I’m rushed.
    There are plenty of theological efforts to deal with the question of God and evil, with a lot of them coming around after the Holocaust.  Biblically, these examples of dissenting wisdom (Job, Ecclesiastes, lament Psalms, etc.) are the closest we can get to an alternative theology.  At least that I can think of right now.  Maybe I can try to clarify some of this more later, but I gotta go now.  Lunch break is over!


    1.  @CarissaLick So basically you’re explicating where the “God punishes you with bad things when you’re bad” theory comes from? Makes sense.
      I think it’s interesting to note that, even though it totally doesn’t make sense to any of the humans in the story, God IS in control.
      I also think it’s interesting that although Job responds in a few negative ways to being stricken with awful things (so far we’ve seen him curse the day of his birth, but I’m sure there’s more to come), he still ends up acting righteously.
      So two things here (which will probably sound really trite when I say them, but too bad): (1) We don’t have to understand in human terms for things to make sense in God-terms. (2) We can still be upset when bad things happen — just because we may accept God’s control/plan doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it. Lots of times these things get boiled down to trite sayings that I hate, like “Everything happens for a reason.” Nobody wants to hear that when their children just died. Seriously. BUT… I still ultimately believe that God is in charge, and that Satan gets to run around doing bad things to people because we’re not in heaven, we’re on Earth. Where I think people get funny is that they try to rush grieving people past all the first however-many stages of grief straight into acceptance (“God has a plan”, yada yada).
      Also a bit rambly. We’re equal-opportunity ramblers here. =)


      1.  @RebekahSchulzJackson Yes.  Thank you for giving me a thesis statement for my otherwise rambly post.  Just like a good English major should do. 🙂
        Also, yes, Job acknowledges that God is in control in spite of not understanding why all the bad things happened.  That’s basically the conclusion of Job and other biblical dissenting wisdom:  Sometimes bad things happen that we can’t explain,  but we still choose to believe that God is good and in control.  But it’s a biblical acknowledgement that we DON’T have all the answers and theologies (whether in the Bible itself or contemporary) that pretend that they DO have all the answers ignore the realities of life.  Just like you said in your original post. 🙂  Another reason why I appreciate reading the Bible through the lens that I do.  It allows me to see the ambiguities clearly without having to always arrive at a solid answer.
        By the way, Rebekah, your observations are EXACTLY what we learn about in pastoral care class at seminary.  “It’s all a part of God’s plan” is NEVER a good response to a grieving person.  People who are grieving are in that part of life where conventional wisdom simply does not make sense, so dosing it out to them just makes them angry and bitter toward God (and you…).  In those situations, Job’s message is much more appropriate and helpful.  It respects people’s feelings, experiences, and concerns as legitimate rather than dismissing them as uninformed.  And, as you remind us, it leads us toward the end of the book of Job, where we can gradually learn to still love and trust God in SPITE of the horrors which we have seen and experienced in life.


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