Job has just finished bringing to the attention of his friends an important question for their consideration. If their simple idea of God’s providence is correct, that a suffering man’s troubles are a sign of the judgment of God against that man, then what about the wicked? Why do so many of them, and even their children, seem to live and die in peace and prosperity? Job draws attention to the brokenness of this world and asks his friends to consider the facts.
As Eliphaz responds at the beginning of this third cycle of speeches, there is no indication that he has felt the force of Job’s words. He may have been listening with his own answer running. He seems to have been more impressed with his own earlier spiritual experience than with the wisdom of Job. Remember that he had a spirit glide by him in the night with this tempting message, “Can a mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?”
Eliphaz begins his third speech with a similar rhetorical thrust, “Can a man be profitable to God?” There is a way to ask a question that anticipates a certain answer. Here a negative response is expected. A mortal man cannot be righteous before God. A man cannot be pure before his Maker. It should be even more obvious, it must seem to Eliphaz, that a man cannot be profitable to God. End of discussion. Except for this: If there is no qualification to these affirmations of the low condition of mankind, then we have lost the gospel.
This is not easy to see at first examination. After all, isn’t our understanding of man’s total depravity one of the basics of our religion? Yet even a great truth can be taken in an ungodly direction. What do we conclude from the doctrine of total depravity, the doctrine that rightly insists that every quality of man has been tainted by sin? Does that mean that there is no hope for man? Does it mean that man is worthless? Isn’t there some way that God has provided for a man to be counted as righteous in His sight? Isn’t it also true that God has prepared good works for us, that He will crush Satan under our feet, and that He insists that our labor in His Son is not in vain? This is the mystery of godliness. We are in the Messiah Jesus Christ and He is in us. In Jesus, a man can be right before God, a man can be pure before his Maker, and a man can even be profitable to God, since God can make him to be profitable. Not that God had some inherent need for outside help, yet this is the way that He has chosen to display His glory, through union with man in the person of His Son, and through making man righteous and fruitful for His kingdom.
But Eliphaz has no sense of the mystery of godliness, the mystery of the union between God and man. He also has no sense of the force of Job’s argument concerning the prosperity of the wicked that should have caused him to see that his understanding of God’s providence was too simple. Missing all of this, Eliphaz, more clearly than before, accuses Job of sin, making up several specific charges such as this one: “You have given no water for the weary to drink,” as well as comprehensive statements of Job’s guilt like this one: “There is no end to your iniquities.” This is why Job suffers, according to Eliphaz.
Eliphaz has seized upon the doctrine of human depravity in such a way that causes him to deny human worth. He holds to the transcendence of the Almighty in such a way that seems to deny His imminence. For Eliphaz God is high in the heavens, not close to us as a merciful Father. Even though the divine being fills our homes with good things, He does it from afar.
The solution for Job, according to Eliphaz, is the same that has been pressed upon the suffering servant of the Lord in prior speeches: Repent. Agree with God. Everything will work out. God will hear your prayers. Light will shine on your ways. Then you will be someone.
When our Lord came to save us as the singular answer to the mystery of godliness, even His disciples and admirers did not seem to hear His greatest wisdom. Though the great man Nicodemus came to Him by night with a heart of respect, referring to Jesus as a prophet sent by God and noting His miracles, he had no sense of what Jesus was doing. He did not understand about spiritual rebirth. To appreciate the reality of regeneration, it is necessary to accept the fact of human depravity, for we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But we also need to appreciate some other truths: the love of God, His power, and His eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.
If you want to start with one Christian truth, choose the cross. The cross of Christ is a storehouse of all the truth of God. In His death, which His disciples found so difficult to understand, He displays the great mystery of godliness. He has taken our depravity, and we have been granted His righteousness. Without this mystery, the human problem admits no real solution. Without the fact of the cross and the companion fact of our Lord’s resurrection, Jesus’ instruction that we must be born again from above would remain a strange idea that we could never fathom.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Great God, we know that You do not need us. Yet You have created us for Your purposes and You will be glorified through our lives. Even the wrath of our enemies will praise You. You are in charge of birth and death. All of the years in between these two events are also within Your sovereign power. We commit ourselves to the care of the weak, for You save the lowly. You who provide for the poor, please have abundant mercy upon us through Your Son Jesus Christ.