Today’s Scripture: Job 5:8-27

8 ‘As for me, I would seek God,
   and to God I would commit my cause. 
9 He does great things and unsearchable,
   marvellous things without number.  (NRSV)

Does virtue depend on the promise of reward or the threat of punishment? How does one explain undeserved suffering? What is the proper conduct of a person in suffering? The Book of Job is preoccupied with these issues and many others. It is certainly one of the most remarkable books of the Bible.

Job, a righteous man, has lost his property, his children, and his health. His friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have come to comfort and console him. Job curses the day he was born. Job’s friend Eliphaz then speaks to him. Today’s reading is part of what Eliphaz says to Job.

Artwork by Christian Harper

Artwork by Christian Harper
“He gives rain on the earth 
and sends waters on the fields; 
he sets on high those who are lowly, 
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
~ Job 5:10-11

Taken out of context, this passage simply seems to be a lovely, poetic rendering of several facets of God’s power: God gives rain, lifts those who mourn, thwarts the crafty, and brings hope to the poor. God does bring judgement, but this is an occasion for happiness, because ultimately God will bring peace and prosperity. These kinds of ideas are found in many places in the Bible (e.g., Psalm 26:7, 1 Samuel 2:7-8, Psalm 7:15-16, Proverbs 3:11-12, Psalm 23). They represent important, recurring motifs from our faith.

Taken in context, however, as words spoken to someone in the midst of extreme and undeserved suffering, Eliphaz’s speech is unsettling. By offering these ideas at this time, Eliphaz seems to want to silence Job’s anguished cries, and to hide from the disturbing aspects of his situation, almost as if Eliphaz is consoling himself, not Job. This does not mean that Eliphaz is totally wrong. Indeed, one of the ironies of the Book of Job is that its conclusion seems to bear out some of what Eliphaz says.

Perhaps the best response of Eliphaz and the others to the suffering of Job comes earlier in the story, in Chapter 2: “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Prayer: God, please help us to know how to be with those who suffer. Amen.