We are down to part 3, the long expected finale, the piece that ties the whole thing together. Per my typical style, I am changing direction again. Once I began to write, I discovered more to say that needed to be said! Thankfully, I have many more weeks to fill this page with my ramblings and thoughts on life and God. I hope you enjoy it!
I left off talking about Job’s questions, but before I get back to that, I believe the words of Job’s friends need a little more attention. Have you ever heard anyone be referred to as a “Job’s friend”? I haven’t heard it often. Maybe it is just church-y jargon. But I hope that I don’t ever earn the title. And, if I do, I hope that I don’t retain it. Job’s friends aren’t really friends at all. In their attempts to affirm or comfort, they do neither. They become anti-friends. We will be nice and call their words a really, really big, collective mistake. Mistakes are expected being human and all; so we can all relate with making a mistake.
Job’s friends can be lumped into categories; one friend that looks to the past and observes, one friend that surmises the present situation and assumes, and one friend who extrapolates out the future and accuses. Each of the friends has an interesting argument. The first contends it is often the case (as seen in the past) that wicked people are punished for doing wrong. The second friend follows suit- if Job did bad things in the past, or was wicked, he could be punished in the present. The last friend skips the pleasantries and accuses Job of wickedness, offering him a restored future if he would just confess.
I tried to picture how this kind of discussion would happen. I am having a bad day and a group of my friends are coming over to watch football. Attempting not to have a pity party, I set out the chips and dip and warm up the flatscreen. But the cable isn’t working. The chips are stale. The dip tastes funny. By the time the guys arrive, I am frustrated. Nothing is going right.
They stay quiet for fifteen minutes, then they try to jump in. The first guy talks about the last time this happened to him. His cable was out all day, and he couldn’t figure out why. His many attempts to unplug and reconnect the thing did nothing. It didn’t make any sense – it wasn’t like the weather was bad or the TV was old. So at the prodding of his wife, he eventually called the cable company. And, lo and behold, he had forgotten to pay the bill.
“Can’t be that,” I say, ” I just paid it yesterday and it isn’t due for another week.”
The next friend is starting to get frustrated that the game is on and all he has to show for it are bad food and an argument. He fidgets, waiting for the opportunity to speak. As soon as I finish, he declares, “You know, I heard that this one guy wanted to piss off his friends, so he invited them all over for steak and served them hamburger. He called them steak patties.”
“You mean sirloin patties?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “He just did it to make them mad. Like promising to watch a game and having nothing to show for it.”
I am perplexed. Really perplexed. “Guys,” I plead, “I had an awful day at work and it seems to have followed me home. I am sorry, but I am really happy you are here with me anyway.”
Suddenly, the last friend jumps up in the air, hands flailing, and yells, “I knew you were a jerk. You are just tormenting us! Just admit it. You unplugged the cable, left the bag of chips open all night, and used an expired dip mix. What’s your problem?”
I am speechless. After a crappy day and some of the worst luck in recent memory, this is how my friends treat me? Seems deplorable, right?
This is the tiniest taste of what Job’s friends were like. All it took for then was time in the presence of a bad situation and the accusations started to fly. What about the discomfort, the pain, the tangible reality of life, could lead to accusations?
If you have to sit in the uncomfortable tension of something that makes no sense, what do you do about it? How much silence can you take before you know you have to say something? But what do you say? Aren’t you compelled to rationalize the situation, to put your brain around it and understand it. And, once you think you understand, aren’t you equally compelled to bring other people along with you, to have them see things the way you see them? It makes perfect sense.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Last night I watched a television program about two of the first paleontologists in the U.S. and their mad dash to seize all of the fossils in the American West. The program described it as war, Dinosaur Wars. It appeared that these two people had it out for each other – from slander and deception to outright cruelty and malice. Their attitudes stunk. All in the name of science!
The two men were both eager to make the next fossil discovery and show the world that American scientists were awesome. If they could back up Charles Darwin’s theories regarding biological evolution and time, they might even show an edge on that popular history book, the Bible. Their pursuit of each fossil, over time, evolved from a curiosity about the natural world to the personal right to define it.
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of us, the people of the United States, is our determination to discover and master (in a way) the natural world. Was there anything inherently wrong with leaving our understanding of natural history well enough alone? Not really. Not to say I am against these discoveries and conclusions, because I am not. And there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with human curiosity and discovery. In this real life gem of American history, the science didn’t stink until the egos got in the way. These two men had to put the stamp of their personal understanding on the world, to transform it into the image of what they saw. And they would do this at any cost.
Job’s friends, anyone?
I know, you are probably thinking that this analogy is a stretch. Follow me here – Job’s friends came to console him, probably with a slight curiosity about what happened to him. Everything in Job’s situation was fundamentally wrong. They knew Job was a great guy, yet they found him destitute. Like any sensible person from that culture, they knew better than to start talking right away. So they sat silent for days.
But what was churning in their heads? Was it thoughts of further ways to show Job compassion? Perhaps, at least for a little while. But I suspect that deeper thoughts were floating around their minds. Thoughts trying to explain why such horrible things would happen to such a good man. And when they started talking, their tongues carried forth their own theory and speculation – that Job deserved what he got.
Yet Job denied wrongdoing. He had done nothing to merit his horrible lot. And Job also did not understand why he was suffering. He had no personal theory, only pain, and therefore turned to God for answers.
If the theories of Job’s friends were only a matter of curiosity, I suspect that they would have gone away at Job’s rebuttal. But they didn’t. Job was repeatedly blamed for his suffering by four different people. And as you read the book, the words get stronger, the tone more adamant, the wounding deeper.
Of course Job was wrong! We the friends are right! And we won’t stop until we break Job of his silly attempt to rebuff our theory! The truth cannot be stopped!
Looking at it that way, I almost want to burst on the scene and slap those friends. Who gave them the right to force their interpretation of the world on someone else, let alone someone in so much pain? I’d show them! I’d line up my theories and pull out the book of Job to validate them. “See that part about the devil,” I’d say, “Ha! I am right and you are wrong! I have the book!”
Ridiculous, I know. But tempting. All it takes is to first simplify a situation so I can understand it, then second, couple that understanding with my desire to be on the side of right. BOOM! We have an explosion of often negative consequences.
That first part, though, that curiosity or desire for simplification, for understanding, seems to be part of our human makeup. Can it be wrong?
.. . . . . . . . .
Sometimes I sketch in the margins of the pages in my journal. Squiggles and swirls and dashes flow from the ink far easier than the words do. And occasionally I am bold enough to try and copy reality. So I draw a tree form, or a vine, little puffy stylized clouds with flat bottoms, and rolling hills. They are merely lines of dark on a field of white, representations of what I see, free to be distorted and exaggerated, black and white instead of full color. Why is it in my nature to do this? To mimic something in my own eye – to interpret it into simplicity? I don’t know, I just do. And it doesn’t ever hurt anyone.
We all do this sort of thing. And it’s our go-to approach to the known and the unknown. That isn’t what leads to hurt and misunderstanding.
Instead, our desire to be correct, to have authority, and to really understand and know that we are in line with something greater than ourselves and others – that is where trouble likes to grow. For the paleontologists, it found its home in position. With Job’s friends, it found expression in theories becoming words.
I must understand where every ship is sailing, and why!
Is it even possible to have the other side of our need met, that need to have mastery over the uncomfortable unknown? Well, to learn about that we will have to finish Job’s story and go back out on the pontoon boat.