Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
I’ve been thinking a lot while sitting with Job about what kind of internal work sitting with my vulnerability and that of others is doing. I’ve decided to describe it as “rubberizing.” I initially thought to describe it as “trampoline-izing” but that sounds really awkward, so I went with rubberizing instead. But really, a trampoline really captures the image of this rubberizing. It’s like I’m gaining the capacity to receive what is coming at me without breaking or causing it to break. I’m not so fragile that a stiff wind will blow me over, but I’m also not a brick wall that shuts out and shuts down everything that comes at me. It’s this ability to catch vulnerability, hold it, and then let it go where it will without doing harm to my own internal life or that of others. Brene Brown describes something like this in Braving the Wilderness as having a strong back, soft front, wild heart. I can feel this happening, as if I’m watching my heart rubberizing into a soft place to land with the flexibility and firmness to hold to my boundaries while honoring the pain, vulnerability, and uncertainty that surrounds me. I’m not saying I’m very good rubber right now. Honestly, as trampolines go, I’d barely be interesting for a 2-year-old. But the softening-firming-flexibilizing process is happening, all the same.
I was about to share my thoughts with my friend Job (I’ve decided we’re friends because if we’re going to sit among our broken pieces, we should probably be friends), when one of his other friends piped up. Job had just bared his heart about his desire to not feel the pain that comes with existence, and Eliphaz (Eli for short) responded. But, he didn’t really respond. He answered, as if Job had just asked a question. But really, Job didn’t ask a question. Job was vulnerable. I’m not sure he was expecting someone to actually respond to him, much less answer him as if his pain requires explanation, but Eli did and here we are. And what an “answer” it was.
I don’t want to bore you with the play-by-play, so here’s my rundown of his main points:
1. Job, you’ve helped a bunch of people when they were suffering, and now it’s your turn and you’re
impatient and dismayed by it.
2. The innocent don’t suffer, but those who sow trouble, reap trouble. (By implication—you may think you’re
innocent, but you’re not. If you’re suffering, you did something to make this happen.)
3. I heard a voice—the modern of equivalent of “Well, God told me, therefore you can’t argue with what I
say”—and it said that no mortal can be truly pure or right before God.
4. “For misery does not come from the earth…Human beings are born to trouble.” Job 5:6-7 (I couldn’t resist
quoting that one. It’s of the only plain things Eli had to say.)
5. Commit yourself to God. We cannot understand all that God does and is doing.
6. Do not despite God’s discipline. God wounds you, but God also heals you.
7. If you seek God, God will deliver you, bring you peace and safety, and make you prosperous.
I really struggled with Eli’s response to Job. Honestly, I felt affronted for Job and for myself. Who is this guy to waltz in and tell me that God is causing the suffering Job and I are experiencing? And not only that, God is discipline us through suffering because we sinned or somehow got out of alignment with God? Job over here lost all his children and all his property in one day. I’m living in the midst of a worldwide crisis because of a virus that originated in some bats in China. Given what I know of Job, why would God need him to suffer to this degree to be disciplined? And what did I do that warrants a pandemic and all its consequences to teach me how to follow God better? Who does this Eli think he is?!
But darn it, something about this internal rubberizing is making me realize that I can’t treat Eli like an enemy either. Granted, his argument makes no logical sense. Basically, he says that Job obviously sinned which is causing his own suffering because God must respond to sin with discipline. No one is exempt from sin, so everyone suffers. And the same God who uses suffering to discipline us also can deliver us from that suffering as long as we seek after God in the midst of our suffering. If that doesn’t make sense, that’s ok, because God is mysterious and we cannot fully know God’s ways. I definitely find this troubling. How am I supposed to trust a God who uses suffering to discipline me to actually deliver me from suffering? What loving God intentionally inflicts pain and grief to teach me a lesson? That does not sound like the kind of parent I want to be or that I want to have.
Despite all of these inconsistencies and troubling assumptions, my rubbery interior recognized that Eli’s speech may be masking his deep aversion to Job’s vulnerability. Better to speak than to silently witness such intense pain. In order to protect his vulnerability from Job’s raw confession, Eli hid behind God and God’s mysterious ways. Granted, God is plenty mysterious, and I would never claim to come close to fully comprehending who God is and how God acts in the world. But I do think I can count on God being consistent. A God who loves us enough to create us, who communicates with humanity so that we know how to seek after God earnestly, that is not a God who decides to inflict suffering on me because I became too sinful or impure. This is not God’s discipline because it is not the discipline of a good parent. If a loving parent refrains from causing pain, instead providing opportunities for children to grow in the midst of the unknown and difficult, as well as the joyful and carefree, consequences of their actions, then surely God who is both Love and Parent would do the same and more. God’s discipline is consistent with a love that upholds boundaries, calls forth the best in humanity even in the face of our worst behaviors, and seeks abundance for all living creatures. Yet Eli chose to lob Job’s suffering off on God’s mystery so he did not have to face the difficult reality that pain and suffering are not and may never be comprehensible. Not being able to wrap our minds around suffering is terrifying, and I wonder if Eli retreated behind God as both cause of and savior from suffering because admitting that he could not comprehend Job’s pain meant he would have to expose his vulnerability, too.
It’s amazing how facing the incomprehensible makes me want to respond with more rigidity instead of grace, more walls and less rubber. Yet sitting with Job is doing the opposite. It is not pleasant work, but it is substantive and transformative. I will take that for now. On Saturday, we’ll see how Job responds in Job 6. My instinct is that we are in for more rawness and less comfort. Until then, blessings on all of our sitting, our waiting, our watching, and our hoping in this season.