Elihu: The Young Jerk
“Why do you complain to him
that he responds to no one’s words?
For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it.”
Job 33:13-14 (NIV)
A previously unmentioned man descends onto the scene after Job’s final defense – Elihu, son of Barakel the Buzite, from the family of Ram. You don’t recognize that name or pedigree? Well neither did I, and a quick Bible search yielded absolutely nothing – for Elihu or his father Barakel, or the Buzites in general, or families with the name Ram. All we know about this mysterious listener (and now orator) is that he is younger than the others, so out of respect, he held his tongue up until this point. And what is the basis of his advice for Job?
More of the same, honestly, although a bit more pointed in it delivery. Elihu presents himself as a wise man who Job can trust to tell him the truth; so wise is he that Elihu spends two chapters chastising the ineffectiveness of the others and imploring Job to listen well. Then, he declares simply:
“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”
Job 36:4 (NIV)
Okay Elihu. We’re all ears.
God speaks to us in all kinds of ways, posits Elihu, and one of the major ways is through punishments. He does this so the sinner can repent and then tell others to repent similarly. Using this logic, Job’s horrible circumstances must be justice, which leads Elihu to rhetorically ask, “Can someone who hates justice govern” (34:17)?
He sums this up with a simple conclusion: “He does not keep the wicked alive” (36:6).
Elihu’s dissertation draws a clear line between Job’s view of God and the others’. Elihu and his older counterparts all believe in a simple God, one who rewards and punishes justly, eye for eye. Job understands the Almighty as a chaotic God, a being so powerful that simple psychics cannot possibly explain His actions. He doles out circumstances and refuses to explain Himself. And when a bad lot comes across us, all we can do is complain and beg for mercy.
This disagreement is the cornerstone of my philosophical problem with the Bible thus far. How does one faithfully follow a chaotic God? (Do not misunderstand “chaotic” to mean “random.” I say it to mean “endlessly complex” and beyond any sort of rational understanding) So according to this book, morality and mortality do not go hand-in-hand. Righteous men may die young and evildoers may live to three hundred years, but how would I – as Job – come to that conclusion knowing what I know about the stories thus far?
Adam and Eve sinned. Then, they were banished from Paradise.
Cain killed Abel. Then, God cursed him to wander.
Men built the Tower of Babel in arrogance. Then, God confused their language.
Men ate animals and grew in violence. Then, God destroyed them with a flood.
So, according to the Bible, God does directly punish those who sin. Why is it so crazy then for Job’s companions to assume he sinned when such radical punishment came upon him? Job does not simply fall under a spell of bad luck – his fortune, his health, even his children are ripped from him in rapid fashion. Why is it sinful to think hey, maybe this is punishment?
We don’t know why, and that is the whole point of the Book of Job. Did you know that when God finally does appear to Job to congratulate him for his faith and chastise the others, He makes no mention of why? God tells Job that He is all-powerful and that Job was an admirable servant, but He does not clue Job into the fact that his suffering was the product of a divine warfare, a bet between Him and Satan. Job never finds that out. Why? Because that is the whole point of his suffering. That his pain came as the result of nothing – that he lost all that he had for no reason.
That when crap happens, it may very well be God’s fault, but that does not mean that you can disown Him, or even blame Him.
All you can do is bite your lip, tear your clothes, and cry until it all goes away.