Job 34:36-37 and Mean Spirited Religious People

(c) Maidstone Museum; Bentlif Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Maidstone Museum; Bentlif Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Just as in all walks of life, there are nice people who are religious and there are mean people who are religious. Lots of times the mean spirited religious people are mean to everyone–those who are not religious and those who are. Why they can be so hurtful and judgmental is beyond me, but I think one answer might be here in Job:

I wish Job would be tested to the limit because he responds like evil people. He adds rebellion to his sin; mocks us openly and adds to his words against God.

This is Elihu speaking, the fourth “friend” of Job’s who essentially summarizes the other three’s thoughts in to one very long speech, while adding a few new things along the way. Here, Elihu has been railing against Job, who according to the conventional wisdom of the day must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment he is experiencing. Since, through his distress and the previous calls to repentance from his friends, Job has not yet asked God for forgiveness, Elihu responds with this sentiment–I wish God would punish you even more so that you would finally see the light and repent!

Let’s recap what has happened in Job’s life up to this point: 1) his livestock have all been stolen, and therefore he is destitute, 2) his children, three daughters and four sons, have all been killed when a house fell in and crushed them, 3) he is suffering a terrible disease that keeps open and festering wounds all over his body, 4) his wife has all but left him, and 5) he is surrounded by people who are convinced that he brought this on himself because of some sin.

No family, no money, no health, and Elihu wants God to afflict Job even more! What a horrible person. And why does he feel this way? Because Job will not agree with him. Job is righteous and does have integrity; we know this from the beginning of the book. Therefore Elihu’s case against Job is wrong, but rather than even try to listen to Job Elihu is convinced that he knows better. Frustrated that Job will not see to reason, the only recourse Elihu can think of to help the situation is for his view to become absolutely apparent in Job’s life. Since Job has not suffered to the point of crying out to God in repentance, then Job ought to suffer more so that he will get to the place where he will cry out. (I wonder if longer speeches about how God always rewards the righteous and always punishes the wicked, and judgment leveled at Job continuously that he must be wicked qualifies as more punishment by God)

I have known Christians who think and act like Elihu. They believe that if evil befalls someone in this world it must be because of sin, and God has sent that judgment into this person’s life to bring them to the point of repentance. This idea is usually only held by people who have never suffered in their own lives, and so naturally assume they are righteous and blessed by God–and think everyone else ought to be as well. This kind of attitude forgets that the message of the Gospel is actually Good News. Never once did Jesus give leprosy to anyone. Never once did Jesus ever kill a family member of someone. Never once did Jesus destroy someone’s wealth or livelihood. Jesus warned unrepentant people about the final judgment before God, but in this life he brought healing and wholeness to all around him. Even to the religious leaders to whom he had the harshest words, he called on God to forgive them from the cross.

Christians who have a mean spirited attitude like Elihu do more harm to the message of Jesus than they help. If we endeavored to bring healing and wholeness to people, to spread the Good News message of Jesus, rather than wish for someone to suffer more and more until they cry out to God, people would take the message of Christ more seriously. Good News ought to sound like good news, not judgment and condemnation. Our proclamation ought to have the same degree of hope and joy that Jesus had, not a self-righteous and mean spirited request for more hurt and harm in someone’s life.

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