Scripture Focus: Job 33.6-7
6 I am the same as you in God’s sight;
I too am a piece of clay.
7 No fear of me should alarm you,
nor should my hand be heavy on you.
Reflection: Entering the Ring of Debate Differently
By John Tillman
Elihu comes in at the end of Job thinking he has the solution to the puzzle. He doesn’t.
Some chalk it up to Elihu’s cockiness or youth but that doesn’t make that much sense to me. We just listened to Job and his other friends rant at one another for over 30 chapters and they didn’t solve anything either. Plus, Elihu is almost excessively apologetic about his youth and apologized for even daring to speak up. Cockiness doesn’t seem an accurate reading.
Elihu talked more than all the other friends combined, but the “knowledge” that he expressed didn’t untangle the knot of the arguments that came before. However, there is much to learn from him. Elihu’s patience, his excellent listening skills, his intentions of being gentle with Job are all lacking in today’s world. Elihu tenderly told Job not to fear him and that he would not make his hand “heavy” upon Job.
When modern theologians exchange ideas (especially on public forums like Twitter) a heavy-handed smackdown is often what their words aim for. (I’ve made this error myself.) Like wrestling performers, grandstanding to the crowd, we swing exaggeratedly even when our actual logic or argument has little real punch. Our intentions are to smack someone down rather than lift them up.
We fail to listen. We rush to judgment. We disdain patience. We double-down on our points when proved wrong. We insist on our infallibility, sometimes confusing our infallibility with that of scripture. We refuse to interpret our foes charitably. We throw around accusations of heresy with no regard for the historicity of the terms or of confessions of faith.
Elihu isn’t soft in what he believes but he’s gentle with those he confronts. He’s passionate about defending God against Job’s accusations. He’s passionate about defending Job against the treatment of the other friends. It’s not like he has no convictions or lives in some mushy middle ground of non-commital faith. Elihu just enters debate in a different way. A more compassionate way. He’s not perfect. None of us are. Some of his arguments are not that different than what came before but his attitude brings much needed refreshment and hope.
May we enter the ring of debate more like Elihu—more like referees than combatants. More patient. More measured. More deferential. More compassionate. Humble.
I confess in my own life I could learn from Elihu.
Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “If your brother does something wrong, rebuke him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry,’ you must forgive him.” — Luke 17.3-4
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
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