Monday, February 23, 2015

Analyzing suffering is not a good idea.

Hear my words, you wise men,
and give ear to me, you who know;
for the ear tests words
as the palate tastes food.
Job 34:2-3

Elihu invites critical examination of his "advice" to Job. As the youngest of Job's entourage of friends, he respectfully watches a string of debates on suffering and sin from Job's other counselors. When he can stand no more he rather impetuously steps in with his thoughts on Job's trials. He takes a different approach, but in the end accuses Job of deserving his suffering due to direct disobedience to God. He concludes the same thing as all the others.

I have noticed over the last 15 years or so a growing trend among some Bible teachers to proclaim that Elihu was right when all the others were wrong. It is a teaching based on silence... never a good place to argue theology strongly. Of all Job's friends, only Elihu is never reprimanded by God. Job is told to intercede for the others, but Elihu's name is not on God's list. This leads some to conclude that God thus sides with Elihu's take on Job's sufferings. But to say this is to make God a liar. Elihu concluded exactly the same things as all Job's counselors:
1) Job suffered publicly for all to see as an example of God's justice (Job 34:26).
2) Job suffered because he turned away from God's ways (Job 34:27).
3) Job suffered because he somehow abused or deliberately neglected helping the poor and needy around him (Job 34:28).

Of course, we know from the prologue of the book that all three conclusions are wrong. If God tacitly approved of Elihu, God could contradict Himself, That cannot happen since God is truth. So let God be true and every man a liar. Elihu is wrong about God and about Job. Sometimes good people suffer not because of sin, but so that the greatness of God might be known in their weaknesses. And for that reason debating suffering is one of the most pointless of spiritual exercises.

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