Scripture: Job 4-6
Key verses: (4:7-8) “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
Reflection: In the first three chapters of Job, we watch as he loses everything in his life; his business, his family, his own health. In response, his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to him. The first thing they do is weep with him. Then they sit with him for seven days and seven nights, saying nothing, “for they saw that his suffering was very great.” This is such a faithful response for those of us who seek to care for friends enduring great suffering, a ministry of presence that suffers with those we love.
In today’s section from Job, things go downhill. His friends begin offering their responses to Job’s lament. Eliphaz is the first to respond with the key verse for today. He essentially blames Job and/or his children for the suffering he’s endured. “Who that was innocent ever perished?” he asks. “Where were the upright cut off?” What a horrible thing to say. I can’t imagine anyone every saying such a thing. However, we have our own contemporary versions. “Everything happens for a reason,” is one I’ve heard. Too often we say things not to comfort those who are suffering, but to ease our own anxiety about their suffering. Seeing another in deep suffering reveals how fragile life really is, and that can be frightening. Listening to their lament, they might say things that make us uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why Eliphaz recites his deeply flawed moral calculus. “Who that was innocent ever perished?” Of course the answer to that question is countless millions of innocent people throughout history have endured untold suffering. Every single day, innocent people suffer. When an apartment building in Gaza is used as a rocket launching station, and Israel destroys it, how many innocent people living in those apartments perish? When Hamas launches their rockets into Israeli neighborhoods filled with children who have nothing to do with their nation’s policies, how many innocent people perish? In two Bible studies I’m part of, we’re praying for children battling devastating cancers. Surely the innocent of our world suffer inexplicably every day. That’s the answer to Eliphaz’s rhetorical question.
If only Eliphaz could’ve mustered the courage and compassion to keep sitting with his friend in silence. If only he could have held his tongue instead of coming up with a ridiculous response to ease his own discomfort born of Job’s lament. The gift God gives us through these ancient words is the opportunity to reconsider how we might respond to the suffering of the innocent in our day. May we learn that we might love more faithfully.
Prayer: O God, your word calls us to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” With those whose suffering is very great this day, give us courage to sit by their side in silence, and wisdom to listen to their lament that we might embody your steadfast love for us all. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].