Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Monday, April 14, 2014

BIBLE: Job (Silence and The Great Conversation)

“When Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.” One lesson from the Great Books is the simple message that there’s a time for everything. Ecclesiastes (GB Series 5) says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Job’s friends should have read Ecclesiastes. They didn’t know when to speak up and when to shut up. Wisdom knows when…
Knows when to speak up. In The Apology (GB Series 1) Socrates takes the practical approach and responds to his accusers: “Very well then. A defense is to be made, Gentlemen of Athens. I am to attempt to remove from you in this short time that prejudice which you have been long in acquiring.” Socrates then tries to persuade a “prejudice” jury that he’s innocent of the charges against him. His defense speech is one of the masterpieces of philosophy.
Knows when to shut up. Sometimes not responding is the best thing to do. In the Gospel of Mark (GB Series 3): “The chief priests accused (Jesus) of many things: but he answered nothing.” What good would it do? His accusers had already decided. Jesus would be executed. Arguing with them was pointless, so Jesus went to his death quietly as a sacrificial lamb.
Socrates and Jesus used different strategies but they were both executed and most people agree both cases were unfair. So where is the wisdom? And what does all this have to do with the Book of Job? Job’s friends all seemed wise, as long as they didn’t say anything. They just sat in silence and mourned with Job. This was the wisest thing they could do. It wasn’t until Job spoke first that they felt free to speak up too. And since Job had spoken so openly and freely, so did they. And they let him have it. His good friend Eliphaz said: “Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled…” In other words, you (Job) were good at helping other people handle problems; now you can’t even handle your own. Another good friend, Bildad, says: “Doth God pervert judgment? Or doth the Almighty pervert justice? …if thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee.” In other words, God is good. If you’re as good as you say you are then God would help you. So you must have done something wrong. Finally, his friend Zophar says “God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.” In other words, you (Job) deserve worse than you’re getting. Some help these friends are. They’ve gone from saying Job’s not such a bad guy; to saying he might be a bad guy; to saying he’s a really bad guy. Their “comfort” goes from bad to worse to worst.
Great Books readings and discussions aren’t always comforting. Some ideas in some of the books make us uncomfortable. The Book of Job is one of those books. Zophar may have been a bad friend to Job but he’s a good gadfly for us, like Socrates; and he’s a good teacher, like Jesus. He asks Job (and us) a simple question: “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?” What can we do? What can we know? These are good questions. Sometimes it helps to talk things over with other folks; sometimes it’s best just to ponder these things in the silence of our own hearts. Wisdom knows when to speak up and when to shut up.


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