Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

BIBLE: Job (Talking About God)

Three friends come to comfort Job and talk to him. When they finally finish talking Job must feel worn out. The reader certainly does. Job and his friends talked about God, about the nature of God and about the nature of man. But it’s certainly not like a Great Books discussion group; it’s not a Great Conversation of give-and-take and sharing of ideas. It’s more like they lecture to one another. No one is really listening to what the others have to say.
Elihu finally has enough. Many readers feel the same way. Elihu says “I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.” Elihu is a likeable young man. He knows he’s still wet behind the ears and not ready to take part in heavy philosophical debates. And Elihu has also been raised to respect his elders, just as many Southern Americans have. “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will shew mine opinion…” It occurs to Elihu that these elders aren’t all that wise. They don’t know any more about God than he does. So Elihu feels “the spirit” moving within him (just as many Southern Americans have) and Elihu feels called to speak in the spirit.
So “Elihu spake moreover, and said… I will answer thee, and thy companions with thee.” Listen up you old geezers. Maybe you’ll learn something. Then he says, “Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds which are higher than thou.” Elihu uses simple and common experience to prove his point. Look up at the sky. See those fluffy white clouds? Everybody has seen fluffy white clouds. So what? Then comes Elihu’s inspired spirit speaking: “If thou sinnest, what doest thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand?” See those fluffy white clouds? You can’t move them. Try. Blow. Blow as hard as you can. See if they move. So if you can’t even budge one puny cloud, how can you even think about pushing God around? Or, turning things around; what can you give to God? What can you give that God doesn’t already have? “Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man…” Now you may be able to punch out a guy at the bar or you may help out a buddy with twenty bucks, but can you either hurt or help God? No way.
Elihu may be the young kid on the block but he’s got a bright future ahead of him. At least until he gets old and gray. Then some new kid on the block will think Elihu’s ideas are old and stodgy. The new kid will come up with some new theory and Elihu will be old news. Is this the way it is when we talk about God? Does the latest theory knock the old theories over? Or do all the ideas just stand there all together in a row, gathering dust year after year? Here’s a novel idea: what if God speaks for himself? In the Book of Job, that’s exactly what happens. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?...” What can Job say? What can anyone say? How would Job’s three friends respond? How could Elihu argue with a tornado? Probably the same way Job did, “I uttered what I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” In short, I don’t know what I’m talking about. This isn’t exactly a Great Conversation. But it may be the only way we can talk about God.


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