D. A. Carson – Job: Mystery and Faith (3) Job and Elihu

I am indebted to Adrian for pointing me to this treaty on Job. Any dedicated believer, who has suffered deeply, or has seen a loved one suffer is fascinated with the mechanics of Job’s dialogue with God in the midst of his own deep suffering and the wisdom, peace, and understanding that can be derived from it. You can read this article in it’s entirety, in pdf form here (18 pages) –

http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_Job_mystery_and_faith.pdf

d a carsonD. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of numerous commentar- ies and monographs, and is one of this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. Among his books are Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (John Knox Press, 1981; reprint, Baker, 1994) and How Long, O Lord?: Per- spectives on Suffering and Evil (Baker, 1990).

The topic is divided into
  1. READ Job chapters 1 – 3 Job’s Sufferings and Initial Reaction here
  2. READ Job chapters 4 – 31  Job’s Plaintive Outrage and His Miserable Comforters 
  3. covers Job chapter 32 – 37 Job and Elihu (article below)
  4. covers Job chapter 38 – 42:6 Job and God  (coming)
  5. covers Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending (coming)

Here are some excerpts from the 3rd section:

Job chapter 32 – 37 Job and Elihu

Chapters 32-37 are among the most interesting, and the most difficult, in the book. They start off by raising our expec- tations. Elihu, not mentioned until this point, has kept his peace throughout the debate, because the other participants are older than he: custom demanded that age take precedence. But now they fall silent, and Elihu, whose wrath has been stoked by the debate, declares himself angry with both Job and his three friends. He is angry with the three friends, “because they had found no way to refute Job “for  justifying himself rather than God” (32:2). And so his lengthy contribution begins.

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We may summarize his argument this way:

(1) Elihu begins with a rather lengthy apology for speaking to his seniors (32:6- 22). Among the factors that compel him to speak is his conviction (as he says to Job’s three friends), that “not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments” (32:12). This does not mean he thinks Job is entirely right, as we shall see; but Elihu has care- fully distanced himself from the theology of the “miserable comforters.”

(2) When Elihu turns to Job, he first rebukes him for impugning God’s justice (33:8ff.). Job may be innocent (Elihu will come to that in due course), but that does not give him the right to charge God with injustice. There is a sense in which Job himself has been snookered by a simplis- tic doctrine of mathematically precise ret- ribution. The major difference between Job and his three friends is not their underlying views of retribution, but their views of Job’s guilt or innocence. Because Job is convinced he is innocent, he is pre- pared to skirt the view that God himself is guilty. Elihu will not have it: “But I tell you, in this you are not right” (33:12).

The first reason why Job is not right is that “God is greater than man” (33:12). By this Elihu does not mean to say that great- ness provides an excuse for wrongdoing, but that God may well have some pur- poses and perspectives in mind of which Job knows nothing. However much Job insists he is innocent, he must therefore put a guard on his tongue and refrain from making God guilty.

(3) The second thing Elihu says to Job is that God speaks more often and in more ways than Job acknowledges. “Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words?” (33:13). The truth of the matter, Elihu insists, is that “God does speak—now one way, now another— though man may not perceive it” (33:14). He speaks in revelation: in dreams and visions (33:15-18). But God may also speak in the language of pain (33:19ff.). This is an advance on the argument between Job and his friends. Here is a chastening use of suffering that may be independent of some particular sin. Its purpose may be preventative: it can stop a person from slithering down the slope to destruction.

(4) In chapter 34, Elihu is so concerned to defend the justice of God that his rheto- ric becomes a little overheated. On the positive side, Elihu is determined to stop Job from charging God with injustice. The proper response to suffering is to accept it: God cannot possibly do wrong. By speaking the way he has, Job has added rebellion to his sin (34:37); “scornfully he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.”

If Elihu is at times dangerously close to siding with the three miserable comfort- ers, it is here. Certainly he has not empathetically entered into Job’s suffering, or tried to fathom the anguish that leads Job to defend his integrity in such extrava- gant terms. But Elihu is right to defend the justice of God, and he has advanced the discussion by suggesting that Job’s great- est sin may not be something he said or did before the suffering started, but the rebellion he is displaying in the suffering. Even so, that does not explain the genesis of the suffering. It may, however, prepare Job to be a little more attentive to listen to God when God finally does speak.

In chapter 35, Elihu expressly disavows that Job is innocent. But unlike Eliphaz (22:5-9), he does not compose a list of sins Job must have committed, but challenges Job’s fundamental presumption. To take but one example: Job assumes that when people are oppressed they cry to God for help, and charges that God does not answer. Not so, insists Elihu: one is far more likely to find people crying out “under a load of oppression” and vaguely pleading “for relief from the arm of the powerful” (35:9), but still not praying. They want relief, but do not turn to God and pray. They cry for freedom, “[but] no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker … ?’” (35:10). God does not listen to such empty pleas (35:13). What makes Job think, then, that God will answer him when the assumption underlying his entire approach to God is that God owes him an answer, and may well be guilty of injustice (35:14-16)?

(5) In the last two chapters devoted to Elihu (chaps. 36-37), several themes come together, and Elihu begins to appear in more compassionate guise. The burden of the passage is this: whatever else may be said about the problem of evil and suffer- ing, the justice of God must be the “given”: “I will ascribe justice to my Maker,” Elihu pledges (36:3). But God is not malicious. He does care for his people. Therefore the proper response to suffering we cannot fathom is faith and perseverance; the response to avoid bitterness (for it is the godless who harbor resentment, 36:13). Job is in danger here: “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to afflic- tion” (36:21)—that is, Job must not turn to evil as a way of alleviating his suffer- ing. Be patient, Elihu is saying, “those who suffer [God] delivers in [lit. through] their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food” (36:15-16). Be patient; it is better to be a chastened saint than a carefree sinner.

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