The reason why we can be wrong is that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Does Job have an answer to the question “Why?” No, he does not. But he can lay his troubles at the feet of Almighty God. This is whom we need to direct people to when they are suffering inexplicably.
Perhaps Job wished his friends had remained silent. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar initially didn’t speak a word to Job. His suffering was too great. They remained silent for a week. But Job 4 marks the beginning of their speeches, where they begin to tell Job what they really think.
Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends to speak. He speaks first probably because he’s the oldest. We pick up in Job 15:9–10 that he’s a gray-headed man, older than Job’s father. Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, beginning in Job 8. He is brasher than Eliphaz. Zophar is the third of Job’s friends to speak, and he is even brasher than Bildad. Job’s friends all share something in common, however: their understanding of Job’s suffering. It can be summarized in a few questions from their speeches:
Eliphaz:_ “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7)_
Bildad: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3)
Zophar: “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? (Job 20:4–5)
Job’s friends each understand the universe as operating according to a certain law. The reason for suffering, in their minds, is very simple. You reap what you sow. You get out of life what you put into it. You are responsible for your actions, and suffering is a consequence of your actions. The implication is that Job has sinned. It may have been a little sin, it may have been a medium-sized sin, or it may have been a big sin. It may be a present sin or some past sin that Job has forgotten about. One way or another, their answer to this predicament—from a philosophical, theological point of view—is that Job is reaping what he has sown. It’s karma. You get whatever’s owed to you.
What do we make of that as a principle, as a philosophy, as a theological way of understanding Job’s predicament?