Reading: Job 4-5
Eliphaz speaks as a prophet, the source of the knowledge is something that God told him in a dream. In Family Systems class, we learned that sometimes, people will claim another authority, higher than theirs — Eliphaz is doing this. He speaks in a way that does not allow his words to be questioned.
As far as prophecy, Eliphaz seems to have a rather simplistic view — it can be pretty easily summarized as “God is a just God, God is obviously punishing you therefore you must be in sin. Repent, and things will go better.
Eliphaz makes a couple of common mistakes when he does this. These mistakes make a miserable comforter:
The first is that he appeals to God’s authority for his words. Whenever we do this, we tell whoever we are speaking to that our word is the last word. The prophecy is something to be accepted without question. In doing this he takes away Job’s chance to process what is happening. Job is asked to accept and live with this explanation without question.
The second mistake is that Eliphaz thinks that it is necessary to defend God. For Eliphas, Job cannot suffer if he is innocent, otherwise God is not just. Eliphaz cannot see what Job’s sin might be, but if Job is right with God, then the faith of Eliphaz is challenged. In this, Eliphaz does not answer Job’s suffering, but his own theological crisis. The problem with this is we confuse our reluctance to rethink our views with God’s honor. The desire to defend God’s honor is something that betrays some false views of God: God is big enough to take care of God’s own honor. God would need us as protectors if God were weak and petty. Eliphaz and others dishonor God much more than the existence of human suffering ever will.
It is not hard to see these mistakes repeated in our faith communities. It would be almost a trivial exercise (which I will not do), to find preachers who refer to a natural disaster as God’s punishment for not agreeing with their interpretation of scripture. While it seems that their unaffected congregation rallies behind them, the people who are suffering are rightfully offended.
I wish that I only found this type of interpretation spoken by radio preachers, unfortunately, I’ve met too many prophets who speak the words of Eliphaz. In my small circle of friends and acquaintances: There is a woman who was told to repent for her sins because she miscarried; there is a small child (less than 10 years of age), who was told by a pastor that his father died in an accident due to his sins; and there are numerous people who speak generically of the causes of poverty and disaster which simply blame the person who is suffering.
These answers are offensive to me, not only on a theological level, but on a personal level. Fortunately, as I read the end of Job, I learn that these answer are also offensive to God. If tempted to defend God’s honor, we must remember that God condemned Eliphaz for his prophetic answer.
Continued: Job 6-7 Job defends himself