As we have seen, Job is a book that is about far more than just suffering. It speaks of the folly of human wisdom, the answer of the gospel to all suffering, and ultimately, the rightness of God. Nevertheless, suffering is an integral part of this book because it is the platform that launches these bigger questions about life.
In light of this, we might wonder about Job and his response to suffering. To be sure, at the beginning, Job’s perseverance in trial is amazing and in fact, used by God to prove Satan wrong. But in the end, we know that God must rebuke Job (Job 38-42). Where did Job go wrong?
This is where Elihu enters the discussion. Elihu’s role is to assess what went wrong in Job’s immediate discussion with his friends. That proves how God is right in the immediate situation and paves the way for God to arrive in a mighty whirlwind and explain how He is not merely right immediately but ultimately (Job 38-42). So Elihu will show Job how he went wrong and by extension, how one might veer off the right track in responding to suffering.
Before jumping into this, the way Elihu approaches Job is instructive. Unlike Job’s friends, Elihu does not stick with their ideology that Job’s sin must have caused his trial (Job 32:11-14). His counseling is not based upon lies but a desire to be grounded upon the truth. Furthermore, Elihu reminds Job that he, too, is formed out of the clay (Job 37:6). Elihu is on Job’s side as they are both mortal and lowly before God. Elihu reminds us that in counseling others we not only want things to be based upon truth, but we must approach people not as a superior guru but with humility and sympathy.
In any case, what does Elihu observe about Job? Elihu peels back the layers of Job’s faulty response to suffering. While he acknowledges a lot of this is provoked by Job’s friends (Job 34:7), Elihu observes that it has happened nonetheless. Initially, Elihu observes that Job has become demanding of God. Job indeed has challenged God in his bewilderment (Job 31:35-37). However, is man really supposed to make demands of God? Is it not the opposite? As Elihu observes, God does not have to give an account of His actions to man; it is the other way around (Job 33:13).
Even more, Elihu reminds Job that ironically, God could have condescended and given an answer but Job was not paying attention. To be sure, God can speak in visions (Job 33:15-18) but Elihu points out in words like James 1 that God can speak through people’s pain to change their lives in radical ways (Job 33:19-22). Perhaps God has been speaking this whole time but Job has not noticed. What will Job say if that is unearthed? Even more, Elihu also tells Job that God could grant his wishes. Sure, a mediator is “one in a thousand” (i.e., not likely at all) but God could provide one for Job (Job 33:23-29). What would happen then? Elihu shows that Job’s insistence that God needs to answer him is not only backwards, but what would happen if God has been doing so this whole time and in ways that go beyond Job’s dreams? What would Job say then? Elihu observes that in the end, Job might be humiliated because the whole time he thought he was right and God was wrong, the opposite was true to the most extreme degree. The danger of making demands of God is that man is far too little and knows too little to ever challenge God. It is not merely irrational and laughable, it reveals how arrogant we can be.
Why does Job (and any of us) do this? Elihu continues to peel back Job’s actions and motives. The reason Job makes these foolish demands of God is because he assumes the worst of God. As human beings, we often give others the “benefit of the doubt.” We assume that in spite of what we have seen, knowing people’s character, there must be some alternative explanation. We patiently wait to see what that is being confident that it will eventually present itself.
The problem is that, in suffering, we fail to think about God that way (Job 34:1-9). But the fact is that no matter what, God is right (Job 34:10-12) and that He owes no one anything (Job 34:13-15). So He has a right to do whatever He wants to His creation. That means whatever He does is right categorically. Even more, God is not only right by definition but even in action. God has a track record of judging the wicked, even the mightiest rulers (Job 34:16-28). We know in theory and practice that God is right.
So Elihu wonders that when God is silent and Job cannot see His face and plans, why does Job assume so quickly that God must have wronged him (Job 34:29)? People give each other the benefit of the doubt with far less certainty of their character and far less track record than God’s unchanging nature and the track record of all of world history. Why do we do that? How is it right or just to do this? Elihu points out Job’s hypocrisy. He is so adamant that God is not fair but in the end, Job does not even give God the benefit of the doubt when he would do that with others. Job is the one not being fair (Job 34:31-37).
Why does Job (and by extension all of us) assume the worst of God? Elihu attacks what is at the heart of all this: self-righteousness (Job 35:2). Job really believes that he is more important than he is. He believes his actions (right or wrong) have to move God to do something immediately. But this is utterly ridiculous and wrong (Job 35:6-8). God will judge and reward but on His timetable. Furthermore, is anyone’s righteousness really righteous? Elihu notes that people cry out to God with terrible motives (Job 35:11-12). Why would God have to listen to these prayers which really are nothing? Elihu points out that Job has done all he does because he has overestimated himself. That is folly.
Equally, Job has underestimated God in his self-righteousness. Elihu illustrates this with something so simple: a thunderstorm. We sometimes think a thunderstorm begins with thunder and lightning but Elihu observes that God starts a thunderstorm with evaporation (Job 36:27). We might assume that thunderstorms are used to send rain. That is true but Elihu points out that God uses thunderstorms to regulate people’s lives, the lives of the beasts, to fill up oceans, and to provide food (Job 36:30-31; 37:7-8). If man cannot even know how God planned a thunderstorm and how He uses it, then how can man assume he knows all God can do with his suffering? Man knows nothing and cannot come any conclusion condemning God. In his self-righteousness, Job has overestimated himself to the extent where he far exceeds God.
So what do we learn from this? We can learn from Job’s example the pitfalls in dealing with suffering. How often do we become demanding of God? How often do we, like a little child, throw a tantrum that God has to do something for us otherwise He is not kind or good? Likewise, how often do we doubt God in our suffering even though we should give Him the benefit of the doubt? How often do we know of God’s character and His amazing track record of goodness (even the gospel!) just to turn around and throw out that massive evidence and accuse Him of wronging us? At the heart of all this, how often do we just feel like we deserve better? How often do we just think that God has to act a certain way or do something for us because of who we are? I suspect that it does not take much for us to see these attitudes in ourselves. And let’s be clear, that disposition is one of self-righteousness which grossly exaggerates our own magnitude and belittles God’s. In fact, it does so to the point where the One we answer to becomes the One who must answer to us. We have become so self-righteous that we usurp God’s place. Elihu is right to show that Job is wrong because in his suffering, he has gone dramatically wrong. And we can too if we are not careful.
So what should do? Elihu’s closing words are so insightful. He speaks of how men cannot always see the brightness of the sky because the clouds block it (Job 37:21). However, just a gust of wind blows this away and what has always been true is clear: the sun shines every day whether you can see it or not. That is the nature of God’s glory and righteousness. There are times when we might not be able to see it from our perspective. Trials, like the clouds, obstruct our perspective. Nevertheless, God’s glory never fails. His rightness and justice are always true no matter what we see, feel, or think (Job 37:22-23). Furthermore, we need to admit that, like a cloud, such trials are not the massive, impossible, unmovable roadblocks to believing God’s goodness as we may think them to be. With barely any effort, God can make all things clear. So instead of becoming haughty and frustrated, we need to remember what is always true no matter what and fear God who is always right (Job 37:24). That is the way we not only refrain from utter destructive folly but even more grow as God uses suffering to refine our lives (Job 33:19-22).
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