Tense Conversations

Scripture Focus: Job 18:1-2
1  Then Bildad the Shuhite replied:
2 “When will you end these speeches?
     Be sensible, and then we can talk.

Reflection: Tense Conversations
By Erin Newton

“Tension” is a good word for the dialogues between Job and his friends. Their relationship is strained. The friends accuse Job of evil despite his pleas to the contrary and our privileged view from the prologue. There is anxiety as the friends (and reader) wait to see if Job really will curse God. Tension abounds.

The greatest tension in the book is the conflict between how each person views the world. The friends, Bildad especially, see the universe operating within a system of divine retribution. God punishes the wicked. This is true. Job, however, knows his innocence. God hears the pleas of the righteous. This is also true.

The discomforting questions remain: Why is Job suffering if he is not evil? Why is God silent if Job is innocent?

As the dialogue is tossed back and forth, Bildad’s reply sounds like someone who is frustrated. I imagine a little huffing and rolling of eyes. The Message translates the verse in similar manner, “How monotonous these word games are getting! Get serious! We need to get down to business.” The New Living translation echoes this sentiment, “How long before you stop talking? Speak sense if you want us to answer!”

Bildad requires some level of sensibility (NIV, NLT) or seriousness (MSG) before the conversation can continue. He asks for a solution to the tension of worldviews. “Agree with me,” captures the sense of his words.

We are quick to criticize Bildad for demanding Job to come to some mental, emotional, or spiritual sensibility. We scoff at his lack of empathy and blindness to Job’s pain. He should be sensitive and give good counsel.

The tension sets in—he’s not wrong in his view of retribution, but we know this is not the right situation for it.

Are we so different from Bildad? We often want someone to grasp this great truth about God so their pain can be eased. We hope some baptized platitudes will ease the burden our friends are carrying. Suffering is not so simple.

Tension marks Job’s painful dialogue with friends. Tension describes the reality that God will punish evil and that the innocent do endure suffering.

Tension resides in our inward struggle to understand the mystery of pain. Tension must be confronted when we sit with our friends in their senseless grief. To live our lives according to Job is to sit within the tension of suffering and justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, by your Name; in your might, defend my cause.
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. — Psalm 54.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen 1:54
John 17 (Listen 3:40)

Read more about Principles, Promises, and Presence
The problem with Job’s friends is not the content but the application…the wisdom is misapplied to try to “fix” Job through shame and blame.

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Self-Serving Rhetoric

Scripture Focus: Job 18.16-21
16 His roots dry up below 
and his branches wither above. 
17 The memory of him perishes from the earth; 
he has no name in the land. 
18 He is driven from light into the realm of darkness 
and is banished from the world. 
19 He has no offspring or descendants among his people, 
no survivor where once he lived. 
20 People of the west are appalled at his fate; 
those of the east are seized with horror. 
21 Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; 
such is the place of one who does not know God.”

Psalm 26.1
1 Vindicate me, Lord, 
for I have led a blameless life; 
I have trusted in the Lord 
and have not faltered. 

Reflection: Self-Serving Rhetoric
By John Tillman

Job’s friends grew harsher with him as the conversation continued. Contentious debate spiraled into more personal attacks.

Bildad answers, spouting truisms and generalities about things that will befall wicked people. However, he goes beyond just reciting commonly held beliefs. He personalizes them, using details similar to Job’s recent experiences. 

“He is torn from the security of his tent and marched off to the king of terrors…”
“It eats away parts of his skin; death’s firstborn devours his limbs…”
“Sulphur is scattered over his dwelling…”
“Fire resides in his tent…”
“He has no offspring…”
“His roots dry up below and his branches wither above…”

Bildad would not have known this, but Job’s spiritual tent of protection had been removed and he had been given over to Satan, a king of terrors. The other details he did know and he turned them against his friend. Job’s “roots,” the sources of his wealth, and his “branches,” his children and extended family, were dried up and withered. His security had been torn away by foreign kings. His children had been crushed in a collapsing building. His skin was being eaten away by sores and illness.

I am convinced that the hostility of Job’s friends and their judgmentalism came from fear and insecurity. The friends are the appalled “people of the west” and “the east.” They were appalled that similar things might happen to them. Proving that Job’s sin brought this on himself was essential to their worldview. Bildad’s images pointed an accusing finger at Job and, by contrast, implied that he and the others were righteous.

Fire fell on Job’s life. Rather than comfort him, his friends blew on the embers to warm themselves.

Blaming others’ choices for their problems gives us false peace in two flavors. We can believe that bad things can’t happen if we are “good.” We can excuse ourselves from helping the suffering because we think their suffering is justice for their wrongs or correction for their foolishness.

In our lives, we can be quick to say, “consequences of your actions” when bad things happen to others and cry “persecution” when bad things happen to us.

Don’t fall victim to the same self-insulating, self-serving, victim-blaming rhetoric as Bildad and the other friends. No matter why fire falls on others’ lives, may we be found tending to the burns rather than stirring up the embers.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen – 1:54)
Psalm 26-27 (Listen – 3:13)

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Read more about When Help Doesn’t Help
We all reap what we sow, don’t we? Unfortunately, this is a common view of pain and suffering, even in the Church today.