Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
In chapter 8, Job’s friend Bildad the Shuhite chimes in. Bildad’s information is a blend of correct and incorrect. Bildad does ask some very good questions in spite of his poor quality information.
The first thing Bildad does is ask a few questions. His first question is how long Job is going to keep talking. Job already said that his words come from a place of suffering and pain and should be listened to, if at all, as the words of someone not entirely himself. So this question from Bildad is not the most penetrating or insightful.
But he follows up with a pair of excellent questions that boil down to this: Is God NOT just and righteous? The implications are powerful. If God IS righteous and just, then I should accept whatever comes from Him as something that is right and just, because I can count on Him to be consistent. If God IS NOT righteous and just, then I cannot count on Him to be consistent in His dealings and looking to Him for help is a crap shoot.
The problem with Bildad is that he keeps going from there and draws out entirely the wrong implication. Bildad figures that if God is just then He will ALWAYS punish the guilty where everyone can see it and will ALWAYS reward those who are upright in the here and now. The truth is quite different.
Job’s other friend, Eliphaz, noted that mankind is born for trouble; that suffering is our lot in life. Bildad says outright that God would make Job’s prior wealth seem insignificant by comparison if Job would just seek compassion from God (v. 7). How can these disparate ideas — the notion of human suffering being normal and the idea of God’s material blessing on and comfort of the righteous and just — be reconciled? They cannot. Not without some Olympic-level mental gymnastics.
Then Bildad, after telling Job that his (Job’s) kids must have died because of some sin they had committed (sometimes we really should just shut our mouths), goes on to tell Job that he should learn from previous generations. There is great wisdom in this piece of instruction. One of the things that sets humanity apart from every other living thing is our ability to learn from our predecessors. Not just our immediate predecessors like parents and grandparents, but from innumerable generations before that — as far back as we have put words to media of some sort. I can, by reading, converse with the minds of C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I can hear the jokes of Samuel Clemens and the witty banter between Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. I can trace the formation of an idea over centuries from its very beginnings to where it is today. And all because prior generations wrote their ideas down I am able to read. Job may have lived in a time when the histories were oral, but there has been research done showing that the oral histories are just as faithfully passed down as the written ones and, in some ways, may have been more faithfully passed down, because everyone can memorize things while not everyone has historically been taught to read. Which is only to say that there was likely a wealth of knowledge from previous generations at Job’s mental fingertips.
From that lofty summit, Bildad descends, yet again, into his erroneous notion that God will ALWAYS reward the just and righteous in the here and now with material comforts. And this is demonstrably untrue. There are and have been those who lived just and righteous lives — as much as any person can — and received little to no material comfort. Their souls were at peace and their hearts untroubled, but they seldom possessed much wealth.
The first takeaway of this passage is the justice and righteousness of God. While Bildad gets the results of God’s justice and righteousness wrong, he is correct to ascribe them to God. God is always just and always righteous and He cannot be otherwise. This affords me a level of stability. God has been, is, and will be consistent. And I can rely on Him to do what is just and right. And, since His stated goal is to make me like Him in character, it stands to reason that He wants to make me righteous and just and consistent.
The second takeaway is that I can learn from those who have come before me and I should. The Bible is the Word of God, so I am well served to study this book. I can also seek out the great minds of the faith and see what they have said and join the conversation that has been going on for almost two millennia. And I can also find out where people have gone wrong. The Bible, in my years of reading it, never so much as implies that a Christian should hate the Jews. In point of fact, the writers of the New Testament comment on how Christians are grafted into the promises made to Abraham. We gentile believers are to see ourselves as something of an add-on and to love those who have preserved the promises of God for so long. Any other reading misses the mark. And there have been other readings. These wrong readings serve as warnings to me as I engage in the ancient conversation. We (people in general, but I am thinking here specifically of believers) often get things wrong and it is to our benefit that we see our error, make amends where we can, and correct our course.
Lord God, thank You that Your Word abides. Thank You for preserving Your Word so that I might sit and converse with You; that I might listen to You speak and engage with You. Through Isaiah, You invite me to reason together with You that I might correct my thoughts and straighten out my mind and learn to make my way right before You. Please teach me, that I might live as You want me to live, and please conform me to Your character that I might be just and righteous and reliable.