When Opinion Becomes Conviction

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be a guest teacher in my Bible class, where we are currently perusing the book of Job in our church family’s year-long study of the entire volume of scripture, Genesis to Revelation, called Project 4:4.

In reading through the entire book this morning, what impressed me most – and for the first time – was that Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar all shared a strong opinion which had become a conviction. Their opinion was unsupported by scripture (which, since the actual events of the story seem to be set in patriarchal times, probably did not exist). As F. LaGard Smith points out in his introduction to the work,

They try to convince him that the answer lies in a simple syllogism: God always punishes sin; suffering is the result of sin; therefore Job is more of a sinner than he is willing to admit.” ~ The Daily Bible, page 1156.

There’s only one problem with this tidbit of human wisdom: both of the premises upon which it is built prove to be false. Job points out that the wicked frequently escape punishment by suffering. And, in the prologue to the work, we discover (though Job and his friends are unaware of this discourse in eternity) that God does not cause the suffering, though He does permit Satan to inflict it, and it is Satan who suggests it. It is also Satan who accuses God of being unfairly protective of Job, and accuses Job of being faithful only inasmuch as he is being blessed by God.

Here’s what stood out to me in this morning’s reading of Job:

There is a serious danger involved in allowing a human opinion to become a conviction; a conviction that one loudly professes to be the very truth of God. The three friends become Job’s “Satans”; his accusers. Out of their own perceived self-righteousness (after all, they’re not being punished by God with suffering for their sins), they taunt and goad him to confess his sins. After having sat silent with Job in his grief a full seven days and nights, they become testy, combative, even sarcastic and insulting in reaction to his defense of his own personal integrity.

In the denouement, God declares that the three have not spoken correctly about Him, and they must offer sacrifices of penitence through Job’s righteous prayer in order to be forgiven.

And here’s the kicker:

Each of them supported his argument against Job with items that were true about God and His sovereignty, and logic that seemed to be sound.

Each of them came to the same, dead-wrong conclusion.

What about Elihu, the fourth and youngest friend who claims to speak by inspiration and proclaims God’s sovereignty and wisdom in permitting suffering to test and shape the human spirit?

The Lord makes no word of commendation nor condemnation toward Elihu.

In a film I watched as a teenager – Donald Pleasance was cast in the role of Job – I seem to remember that young Elihu called attention to the gathering storm in his address the Job and his friends … but when the Lord spoke from it, he fainted dead away. Maybe that was the director’s choice in explaining why God doesn’t even mention Elihu in His response. Or maybe Elihu just spoke what was to God the obvious truth.

Like Satan, Elihu simply disappears from the narrative after his discourse. Elihu has used Job’s own words against him, with the implication that Job has no right to question God; no cause to accuse Him (thought he has not done so); no reason to be treated any differently than anyone else. This is also an opinion that has become a conviction with Elihu. And it has some merit … we are all sinners, and none of us is justified by his own righteousness. In this life God shows no favoritism; yet He is ultimately just.

But that may have been – at the time – a truth to be held for a later time; a prophecy to be sealed up for another day. Or it may have just been an insufficiently-stated truth.

Job, out of his Abraham-like faith, has already spoken a more fully-expressed truth: for the righteous of God, there must be a resurrection, a day of accounting, a judgment, and a redemption.

Job’s conviction of faith is no mere opinion; it is affirmed by God in those closing chapters. Out of his humility, he has confessed his humanity and God’s divinity; that he is insufficient to fully grasp the fullness of God. Never has his questioning accused God, nor has he presumed a superior righteousness to God’s. He has only asked why God is making it look that way.

I believe that Job’s faith is an encouragement for us to seek God, question God, discuss God with our friends – even if all of us are wrong – to grow closer to Him through suffering; to feel free to express our lament in pain; and to live humble and righteous lives in His view whether rewarded in this life or not.

The enigmatic ending? What should we make of God restoring Job’s earthly wealth and blessing as a coda to a work which affirms that God does not play favorites in this life?

Perhaps because that restoration does demonstrate in a tangible way that God ultimately does reward righteousness; that it is His gift given at His discretion rather than the wages of our works; that He is sovereign and wise enough to test Job’s faith with blessing as well as with suffering.

But that’s my opinion … not a conviction.

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10 thoughts on “When Opinion Becomes Conviction

  1. Great thoughts. Job’s friends made a classic mistake that we, too, can make if not careful. They took principles that tend to be true, but not always, and indicted Job with them without considering the evidence. We often rush to judgment without considering the evidence. When we do, though, we are the ones with the eggs in our faces.

    Thanks for the post, Keith!

  2. Enjoyed the post Keith! I also enjoy F. Lagard Smith. His Narrated Bible is one of my favorites.

    It has always helped me to understand Job as a story of a grieving man (all the stages of grief seem to be present) and how friends often cannot help because they do understand grief. I think that Job’s grieving might have been difficult because his paradigm of suffering somewhat agreed with his friends.

  3. Keith, you ask about what we should make of the ending of Job’s story, and you suggest that it serves as an example of the fact that the Lord is the Righteous Judge who, in the end, will indeed punish the wicked and bless the righteous. I certainly don’t disagree w/that opinion.

    But I do really struggle w/Job’s happy ending, and here’s why: while Job never gets the answers to his questions about his suffering, he (along with any reader of the book that bears his name) does get a lesson in perspective and in the sovereignty of God. That lesson forces me to accept the fact that, yes, God is good in blessing Job and restoring to him his health, wealth, etc. But it also forces me to accept the fact that even if God hadn’t restored all of these blessings to Job–if Job had died in his misery–God is still good. I can’t help but wonder how the story might have ended differently, and when doing so, I have to ask myself if I would be able to read a different ending to Job’s story and still be able to accept the fact that God is good. That’s a challenge for me.

    Not long ago in our Project 4:4 study, we read of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Before King Nebuchadnezzar threw them in, he gave them one last chance to worship his gods. Their response astonishes me: “The God we serve is able to save us…but even if He does not…we will not serve your gods.”. They had faith in the power of God, regardless of whether they felt He was acting in their behalf or not. They knew that He was sovereign, it was His choice to make if He chose not to deliver them, and it didn’t change the fact that He is good.

    I find myself searching for that faith when I reach the end of Job…a faith that is willing to say that regardless of what happened to Job, blessing or not, God is good.

  4. I find many parallels between the message of Job’s three friends and the message of Deuteronomy. Moss’ theme, over and over, is that obedience to the covenant will be blessed while rebellion against it will be punished.

    I find so many thematic parallels there that I tend to believe that whoever shaped Job into the inspired text we have, did so to interact with and challenge the very conclusion that can come from Deuteronomy: that while all good things come by grace, suffering is the result of sin, while blessing is the result of obedience.

    • I’ve always gotten the sense that Elihu and Eliphaz said pretty much the same thing – notice that Elihu is not commended by God either, like Job was. Eliphaz, I think, was old enough to know better – Elihu, one hopes, was young enough to learn from Job.

      • That’s an interesting thought. I’m going to have to break out my study notes on Job, it’s been a couple of years. I’m definitely going to take a closer look at Eliphaz. Thanks.

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