The first time I read the book of Job, I highlighted most of it.
I was so impressed with the theological insights of Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu concerning the suffering of their friend Job. After being silent for a few days, they finally fill the air with the wisdom grieving Job desperately needs to hear. Chapter after chapter, the reader is treated with theological gems such as:
“Blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17).
“If your children have sinned against him, he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression” (Job 8:4).
“God exacts less than your guilt deserves” (Job 11:6).
"Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25:5–6, ESV).
These stimulating recitations of spiritual aphorisms find their climax when young Elihu, a man “righteous in his own eyes,” stands and shames all previous intelligence peddlers with fresh insight beginning with a rebuke to old people (32:8–10). This poor man suffers under the burden of his own wisdom, as many of us do, and we empathize when he says, “I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief … (Job 32:18–20, ESV). Elihu’s “words are not false” because “one who is perfect in knowledge is with you” (Job 36:4, ESV).
People like this are so hard to find.
Elihu says, “Job opens his mouth in empty talk; he multiplies words without knowledge” (Job 35:15–16, ESV). Yes, Job indeed has been a worthless idiot. It's nice to read about people like this — folks not afraid to step in when a fellow follower of God is suffering and let them know what they’ve done. And if they don’t, we certainly do, and it’s up to us to help them see.
And God is pleased … or so I thought until I got to chapter 38 when God finally speaks into the cesspool of human speculation: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (Job 38:2, ESV) Well, that was unexpected and unfortunate. I looked at my desecrated Bible horrified that I had highlighted heresy instead of truth.
The gospel of suspicion and speculation still lives, and sadly its believers, like their patron saint Elihu, are always “full of words.” This gospel was preached by the Pharisees and even practiced by Jesus’ disciples (John 9:2) until He rebuked them. Sadly, it sounds a lot like how we engage with each other.
A quick glance at the North American Division (NAD) Facebook page provides us with ample speculations about sin in comments left by Facebook “friends”:
“The fact that the director of legislative affairs for the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church chose to publish an article in the Huffington Post, regardless of the possible merits of his position, gives me pause for concern … . I would fire him.”
Promoting the Adventist-produced film Old Fashioned:
“And we should go see this on Sabbath? Are we pushing Sabbath aside for a secular pastime? Wow.”
Any my favorite:
“Is this really the stand of the NAD or just one Jesuit running this site?”
Outside of Facebook, theologically unstable church folk speculate on the causes of two recent tragedies at Walla Walla University and Union College, indicting bicycles and competitive sports as the reason for suffering — instead of praying for those involved.
They are, to quote God’s servant, “miserable comforters.”
Adding to the fracas of false accusations are books clandestinely mailed to pastors by independent publishers. I recently received one of these works, which listed the names of all those they believed to be infected with sin. Sadly, I knew some of these people, and when I mentioned this to them they had no idea their names appeared in print nor had knowledge of this book.
What else are our leaders being secretly sent in the mail featuring the names of their parishioners and colleagues? It's like 19th-century Salem. Now, for those seething with speculative angst about my motives, let me assure you: I believe in sin, the existence of secrets, shady motives and boldly proclaiming truth.
However, I’ve read Jesus admonition of refusing to “judge by appearances” (John 7:24) and Ellen White’s counsel to judge motives (Mount of Blessings, p. 125). I don’t believe that anyone who criticizes before seeking to understand their perceived opponent’s intended meaning is preaching the gospel.
We are too good at highlighting error instead of truth before we know the whole story.
Within the Great Controversy, an often-cited source by those keenly aware of the spiritual battles that take place towards history’s close, the author says, “There has ever been a class professing godliness, who, instead of following on to know the truth, make it their religion to seek some fault of character or error of faith in those with whom they do not agree. Such are Satan’s right-hand helpers. … They will put a false coloring upon the words and acts of those who love and obey the truth. … It is their work to misrepresent the motives of every true and noble deed, to circulate insinuations, and arouse suspicion” (p. 519).
All of us fall into this trap, particularly when disagreeing with each other. Perhaps the best route is to spend more time praying for our enemies — as Job and Jesus did — so when we, like Elihu, feel our bellies about to burst, we recognize that it might just might be self-righteous nausea instead of righteous indignation ... and people are tired of cleaning up speculative vomit.