Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Job's Friends (part 2)

Job ends the silence. They've been sitting together on an ash heap for seven days in silence. And if Job would just repeat what he said and did in chapter 1:20-22, I think the story would be over. But he doesn't. Instead, he pours out a level of bitterness, confusion, sorrow and anger that is difficult to read. In fact, it's so difficult to listen to that his friends -- who up until now have maintained their silence -- can remain silent no longer. They feel like they have to respond and defend God's honor.

Eliphas begins and basically says, "Job, innocent people don't suffer. You are suffering. You must not be innocent."

Job pushes back.

Bildad wades in and adds something so hurtful, so insensitive and callous -- I just want to smack him. He tells Job that his children -- the 10 children who have just died -- deserved it. Somehow or other, they brought this upon themselves.

Those of us who are aware of what's gone on in the Upper Stage know this isn't true. But what must that have sounded like to Job?

It probably sounded like some of the people who are blaming the people of New Orleans and Biloxi for Hurricane Katrina.

Job goes ballistic, and Zophar pushes one step further saying, "Job, your sin caused all this."

All three friends are saying the same thing. It's called the Doctrine of Divine Retribution, and it goes like this:

If you are good, then you will receive blessing and prosperity.

If you are bad, then you will receive misery and poverty.

In other words, God treats people the way they deserve. If you're suffering, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you will just repent, then you will suffer no more. After all, God doesn't allow good people to suffer, does he?

The really scandalous thing is that this is still being taught in Christian churches all over the place. It is blasphemous because it makes a mockery of human suffering -- the same human suffering that God himself entered into on the cross.

Talk to someone who has suffered, and they'll tell you that the people who inflict more harm than good are usually Christians. Christians who say things like: "If you just had more faith" or "God is refining you" or "You could think of this as a wake-up call".

We heard it after 9/11. We heard it after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. We hear it now in the wake of Katrina. Eliphaz even claims that this is a divine insight -- a Word from the Lord (4:12). Ever hear that?

We have to be careful about this kind of thing. Eliphaz is sincere, but he is wrong. And that kind of theology breeds a kind of death -- the death of hope, the death of gratitude, the death of joy, the death of grace. Life becomes just one endless cycle of reaping and sowing.

That's many things, but it is not what I would call "Good News".