The Good Word  

 September 1998
There is an oft told story of a young man who was quite taken with himself.  On a date, he went on and on to his young lady about what he thought about himself, his qualities and achievements.  Realizing at last that he had been dominating the conversation, he turned to his date and said, "Well, enough about what I think about me.  What do you think about me"?  The self absorption is so extreme that it could almost be funny.  (If you didn't happen to be the young woman!)

It brings to mind the contrast between Christianology and Christology.  Christianology is the study of Christians; Christology is the study of Christ.

Well, what is Christianity all about?  Is it Christianity (about Christ)?  Or is it Christianity (about Christians)?

The book of Job is the pinnacle of theology in the Old Testament.  Most people know that the book is about suffering.  But that is not the main point of the book.
In the first three chapters, Job is introduced as a "perfect man",  Satan is introduced as his tormentor, claiming title to Job as an earthly subject.  God, the referee, stands over both Job and Satan, but is permissive of the torment as a demonstration of Job's allegiance to God.

It is after Job has been sorely afflicted twice - loss of goods and family and then his health - that his ostensible three friends appear.  They have come to "comfort" him.  It is with their appearance that the great argument of the book gets under way.

Bear in mind that the book began by describing Job as a "perfect man".  This will be the root of the argument that follows with his three friends.

Job's Argument
The essence of Job's argument is that he is a perfect man, undeserving of the calamities that have befallen him.  Chapters 3 through 31 are a crescendo of argument between Job and his three counselors: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.  Job's character, fairness and death loom large in the discussion.  Job's wife has already called for him to, "Curse God and die."  But he reasons, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9,10)  With his audience of friends Job begins by cursing his birth:

    "Why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child,
        like an infant who never saw the light of day?
    There the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest . . .
        The small and the great are there.  (Job 3:16-19)

Job's "Friends"
With these and such-like laments Job desires the alternative of stillbirth to the life he has lived, that has now been plunged into suffering.  He is interrupted in his lament by "friend" Eliphaz who seeks to put the matter in balance:

    "Think how you have instructed many, . . . But now trouble comes to you,
        and you are discouraged." (4:3,5)

Eliphaz plows ahead with - - -
    "Who, being innocent has ever perished?
        Where were the upright ever destroyed?"
    Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
        Can a man be more pure than his Maker?" (4:7,17)

The gist of Eliphaz's argument is that bad things do not happen to good people.  The recent events of Job's life give the lie to his earlier apparent righteousness.  God does not make mistakes.  Job is being punished for being bad.  But there is advice:

    "If it were I, I would appeal to God;
        I would lay my cause before him. . .
    For he wounds, but he also binds up;
        he injures, but his hands also heal." (5:8,18)

Death would be more welcome to Job than this assault on his integrity.  He may not understand what is happening to him, having lost his family, wealth, and, finally, his health.  He recoils from a "friend" who, in the end, would also deprive him of his honorable trophy life.  He argues:

    "Would I lie to your face? . . .
        reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.
            Is there any wickedness on my lips?
    If I have sinned, what have I done? . . ." (6:28-30; 7:20)

The argument is confirmed and extended by both Bildad and Zophar:
    "Does God pervert justice? . .
        When your children sinned against him,
            he gave them over to the penalty for their sin.
    If you are pure and upright,
        even now he will . . . restore you to your rightful place." (8:3,4,6)
    "Is not your wickedness great?
        Are not your sins endless?" (22:5)

Throughout the back and forth between Job and his counselors is this consistent theme:

Counselors: Bad things have happened to Job because he is (possibly secretly) a bad person.  He must repent and confess.

Job: What have I done wrong?

Thus Job and his counselors make the whole argument "about Job."  From their perspective it is all about Job.  Job is at the center of his own universe.

Elihu's message
This horrible perspective is not broken until the four men have ended their arguments and the young man Elihu steps forward to put the matter right.  He is enraged that Job has been "justifying himself rather than God." (32:2)  Pointedly:

    "But you have said in my hearing - I heard the very words -
        I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt.
            Yet God has found fault with me;" (33:8)

Rather, Elihu moves the focus far away from them all.  He says,

    "I will get my knowledge from afar;
        I will ascribe justice to my Maker." (36:3)

He will not attempt to address Job's condition.  It is a matter not to be addressed.  The very focus on Job is revolting.

Nor does this mean that Elihu presumes to explain the matter by moving the focus to God.  Not at all.  He asserts:  "How great is God - beyond our understanding." (36:26)

Man is not God, to understand all that happens to himself.  This world is not about us and our foibles and triumphs.  We are not the focus of the universe.  In fact, happiness begins when our focus moves away from ourselves.  It's pinnacle is a submissive, undeviating focus on God.

God confirms
That Elihu had the matter right is confirmed by God himself, when he personally breaches the argument:  "Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.  He said:

    'Who is this that darkens my counsel
        with words without knowledge?
    Brace yourself like a man;
        I will question you, and you shall answer me.'" (38:1-3)

God essentially steps forward and seconds Elihu's message.  The focus is personal, on God, and not about man, an object of his creation.

Of course, in the end, Job seeing God, rethinks (repents) the whole situation. (Job 42:1-6)  And there is a restoration deserving of another essay.

Each of us can benefit from the story of Job, not by holding this material in reserve for some great personal calamity, but by turning our attention away from ourselves and onto God.  We all need to rethink some things (repent) ourselves.  But this rethinking must not be allowed to become our new focus.  God must become the focus.

This is a tricky point, but vital.  It is too easy for the Christian world to slip into a pattern of instructing the the "faithful" on what there lives should be, and how to get them there (with God's help, of course).  This parsing of the Christian life is the abomination of the book of Job.  It is what we call here Christianology.  It contrasts starkly with the Christology of Elihu, as endorsed by God.  Check it out for yourself!

In fairness, Job though anguished and unsure about his situation, consistently expresses faith in God:

    "I know that my Redeemer lives,
        and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
    And after my skin has been destroyed,
        yet in my flesh I will see God;
    I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
        How my heart years within me!" (19:25-27)

This is one of the most beautiful (and likely the earliest) written record we have of faith in the resurrection and final fellowship with God.

 Your friend, Herb Sorensen