Reflections from the Ash Heap
Unsuffering people say a lot of things to suffering people. They often say stupid things. They make assumptions about God based upon what they would like to believe about God rather than what actually exists in the real world. And they speak these things out loud to people who don't need to hear them or want to hear them.
This is what happens to Job. Job's friends have been silent for a week. They have seen Job's pain and grief. They've heard his groans and sighs. They've heard him curse his day of birth. And they can't stand it any longer. They open their mouths and start saying stuff. They say stuff that sounds "right." They say stuff that is full of piety and "good-sounding" theology. They say stuff that we would all like to believe.
Eliphaz begins. His monologue is twice as long as Job's initial diatribe against the day he was born. First, Eliphaz speaks sweet words that recall Job's instructions to others, and then tells Job that he should take his own advice and apply it to himself. Who wants to hear that in the midst of being miserable?
Right after this, Eliphaz pretty much says that trouble comes to the guilty. And then, he recounts his own dark and frightening nightmare in which he heard a voice describing God's disregard for mortals. How is that helpful?
Eliphaz doesn't stop, he continues by talking about the fool whose children are crushed. Does he say this on purpose knowing full well that Job's children were buried when the house collapsed? What is he implying here?
Eliphaz has more to say: "Job, here's what I would do if I were you." And what does he suggest? He tells Job to seek God. And Eliphaz gives all the "right" reasons for doing so: God is good; God helps the poor; God punishes the evil-doers; God delivers from evil; God will prosper you.
Job is sitting in the Ash Heap scraping his weeping wounds with a broken pot, and Eliphaz wants him to visualize how good God is. Suffering doesn't feel good. And talking about God in this way when one is sitting in the Ash Heap doesn't feel good either. It is like dumping hot ashes into the Heap and asking one to put those on the head. The problem is that this theology doesn't hold true all the time. Yes, God is good as defined by God. And God helps the poor, and God does not help the poor. God punishes evil and God does not punish evil. God delivers from evil and God does not deliver from evil. God prospers and God does not prosper.
Eliphaz makes a case that is too one-sided. He forgets the other side. The other side is where Job sits in his ashes and his curses. This is where suffering sits and asks the hard questions. And it doesn't want answers like those Eliphaz uses to "comfort" his friend. Eliphaz would've have been a better friend had he remained silent for another seven days.