These verses are considered by most scholars to be a part of Job’s first cycle of speeches. The verses become different as he begins to reprimand his friends for what they are saying to him.
Job thinks of God’s deeds and wonders. He wants to speak to God and reason it out with God personally. Job wants to know why God would not stop people being born that were prone to end in hard times. Wouldn’t it be better to not be born than to encounter rejection? Even death might be better than being subjected to this.
Job’s friends have a lack of concern for God. Bildad says that what we consider as evils, are really good. They are concealed from us because we do not know the way of wisdom. Zopher says wisdom is kept from us who are rebellious. God is the one who knows the wrong committed by humans. If there are distinctions corresponding to the degree of human capabilities, this is known only by God.
It would be best that God’s fear should fall on them. They are stupid in because their memory is nothing and their body is ashes. Therefore they argue unintelligently. They are worthless. He simply does not care to talk to his friends at length. Job wants to debate with God. Job believes it is a waste of his time to argue with his friends who continue to condemn him. They are not good people and do not help the helpless.
The error of the friends is noticeable as they talk on. Silence would be better and wiser for them. Job pleads for them to listen but they do not. He wanted them to listen (CPE) to his argument and plea to God. They need not be God’s attorney.
Job indicates if God were to look closely at their lives, they could do little to hide. He believes that God turning away from them would scare them. His friends are lousy counselors. Their words are worth less than the ashes in which Job sits. Their arguments to Job are useless. They are like jars of clay-no substance.
In the midst of Job’s suffering he realizes he may have gone farther in talking than he really had meant to. He does not know another other way of expressing himself. He feels much out on a limb.
Job believes that if these friends would just be quiet and reflect, they might be able to use their talents to help and listen. At the very least, poor and suffering people feel unloved. They are not heard or understood. Job certainly feels no one is really interested in what he has to say.
Job’s friends like many of our own have a tendency to ask of our well being and then not really listen. An example of that would be when a person as a matter of habit says “How are you?” Then when they hear bad news that conflict with them, they soon turn away and this action can make the matters worse.
In reading this chapter, there is not a question on denying God. It is one interpretation of the relationship between humanity and God based on retribution. Job is a person of reason. The difference lies in what comes out of the thoughts. His friends rely on the thoughts of the past. Job prefers to seek new understanding by using the past. Knowledge of the past means growth to Job.
Job’s friends are not a comfort to him. They leave him with platitudes to exalt their own self worth. They are pleased with themselves because they are not down and out like Job and project themselves as being superior. Job’s friends believe they know what Job should listen to. Job accused them in 13:17 of being dishonest in defending God. He believes they must lie to defend God when Job’s God is much bigger and quite able to defend her/him.
One of the attitudes that angers Job is that of resignation. They want Job to accept his lot in life. Even though Job looks like he is in pain, they do not understand or feel the pain because they have not lived it. Not having lived through what Job has, they can only talk of circumstances that are natural and ordered. Job is having none of that. He aspires to looking at the world through the experience life. This world Job lives in is not tidy and fair.
Most of us at some time or another have found ourselves wanting to see the world as an ordered and neat experience. We see that the world certainly has flaws but things are not “so bad.” Sure there are difficulties in the world and there seems to be enough suffering to go around but it could be worse.
We are reminded of the 1950’s when homophobia wasn’t even spoken of but it was there in many forms. Today we often help to make ourselves feel better because homophobia is rampant but we can just look at the 1950’s and feel much better. The fact there is still homophobes, still poor and homeless and still no peace between nations does not give us warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It simply tries to state the degree of injustice.
Optimism in believing the world is getting better or “surely better than it was” our attitudes kept civil rights in check and slavery around for many years. The white plantation owner surely told his slaves how the world was just. Job’s friends tell him the same about his situation.
People, who experience life in a positive way, often forget the injustice of those who suffer from barely enough money, food and clothing to go around. It is easy to see a wonderful and omnipotent God when plates are full. This is the way Job’s friends saw life. This is the way they interpreted it for Job.
Do we as Christians “whitewash” the world? Are we painting a rosy picture of the hungry, overpopulated and greedy world? Is what we learn in seminary real life experience or a way we want the world to be? Can we see through the rose colored glass to a picture of a suffering and unfair world that really exists and can we from that bring hope and justice?
Job’s friends try to put Job in his place in their thinking. He does not accept or allow this because his life is no longer neat and orderly. The neat orderly life is the one that Job’s friends know. It is the only one they know and so they cannot make any provision for what is happening in Job’s world. They continue to want to validate their theology through Job but Job cannot agree with them.
In looking at this excerpt from the book of Job, we are reminded that no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable we are in the safe environment of our peaceful lives, we should strive to recall the raw experience of the world as it wounds our souls. It needs inclusion into our feeling, thinking and for caring for the less fortunate.
Struggling to listen to voices outside our world can give us insight and feeling so that we give credit to our lives when we recognize and share with others the conditions of justice for the entire world.
Ordained in August 2006, Rev. Suzie Chamness served as Senior Pastor of Spirit of Life MCC of New Port Richey, Fla., beginning in 2009, having served as volunteer clergy for the congregational care ministry at King of Peace MCC and as chaplain at Bon Secours Maria Manor senior care facility, both in St. Petersburg, Fla. In June 2006 she earned a masters of divinity degree from the Florida Center for Theological Studies in Miami, followed by a doctorate in ministry from Andersonville Theological Seminary.