At the end of the book of Job—the story of the innocent suffering—the main character Job is charged with trying to “correct” God (Job 40:2, NIV). After reading the book through pretty swiftly, I read that verse and agreed that that was essentially what Job was doing much of the time. He was complaining, confused, and correcting and contending. Complaining—saying it wasn’t fair. Confused—wrestling with what was going on. And correcting and contending—knowing he was innocent and so concluding that God didn’t see things rightly.
We do well to remember that the word “Israelite” in the Bible means “one who wrestles with God.” Therefore, there does not seem to be ill in Job’s wrestling and even complaining. He trusts in his God; he just doesn’t know what this God is up to. But it is his correcting and contending that gets him rebuked by the Lord. It is this attitude that leads the Lord twice to firmly address him, “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:3; 40:7). It’s this that brings on the hurl of God’s scolding rhetorical questions: “Where were you...?”, “Who did this...?”, “Would you...?”, “Can you...?”
Job in the end is humbled and corrected by how little he knew. His attempt at any correcting of God was seen as silly. After God’s many many statements about his Godness, Job replies with confessions such as, “I put my hand over my mouth...I have no answer,” and, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted...Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (Job 40:4-5; 42:2-3). He sees his folly. His stupidity wasn’t his complaining, it was his correcting.
Presuming to Know It All
But as those familiar with the story know, Job is not part of those mainly rebuked by God in the book. He rather is blessed in the end. God looks upon him favorably, saying twice that Job spoke “rightly” (Job 42:7-8). It was his friends who were ultimately rebuked.
Apparently there is a worse error than correcting God—at least during confusing times of suffering. Job knew he was innocent and so sought to correct God. But Job’s three miserable comforters—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—did something worse: they presumed they knew exactly what God was doing. They essentially assumed a place in the heavenly council. This is a terribly arrogant thing to do.
God shows his extreme dislike of this at the end of the book. He humbles Job by showing him his supreme wisdom and power, but he explicitly is angry with these three friends of Job. He says that they have spoken wrongly about who he is. This is serious. To Eliphaz he says, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
How did they misspeak about God? Job thought he knew something which God was missing; his friends thought they knew all. Doing so, these friends misspoke about God. They were saying that they could tell you exactly what God was doing. They thought that if Job was suffering then he must have sinned. “Of course that how it works,” they thought. Or more importantly, “Of course that’s how he works.” What is surprising is that, when reading the book through, much of what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar say seems to be biblical, and sometimes even beautiful (see for example Job 22:25-26). But God is very angry with it all because they assumed they knew his every way. They were wrong—wrong in a worse way than Job’s correcting. God revolted at this. He still does today.
Humility In Both Respects
The point for his people today is that God would rather us be broken and confused than brazen and conceited. This is especially true when we are in suffering or comforting those in pain.
On the one hand, we have to come to grips with Job’s error. We sometimes forget that Job was rebuked. This shows our words matter—even in awful, deadly, pottery-scraping suffering. Our response to suffering matters—it shows what we truly think about God. Job was off the mark in seeking to correct the Almighty. In our suffering, may we avoid this.
But God says Job was right in his wrestling, confusion, and not assuming that he knew all that God was doing. In this way, he spoke rightly of God. So even though Job was rebuked, he also was a biblical example for us. He suffered righteously, not assuming he knew everything God was up to with his suffering. May we do the same.
On the other hand, we should fear even more greatly of making the mistakes of the ‘miserable comforters.’ Not only were they worthless to Job, they were wicked to God. They thought they could explain God’s ways in every situation.
We must avoid assuming we know all that God is up to. With wisdom, we can say that, yes, sometimes events can be God’s judgement on sin (like with Sodom and Gamorrah); but also, yes, sometimes bad events have nothing to do with judgment of sin. We can say that, yes, sometimes God does rescue and protect the righteous; but also, yes, sometimes he allows suffering to happen for his own wise, good, righteous, and even “kind” (James 5:11) reasons.
There’s a humility needed in both respects: a humility to not seek to correct God or think that he’s missing something; and a humility to never assume you think all God’s thoughts and ways after him. In the end, the point is that we are not God.
Who Do We Think We Are?
This is why God’s response to Job in chapters 38-41 is brilliant. It directly is a response to Job, but it no doubt is a response to the friends as well. And it is the perfect response.
Who do we think we are? On the one hand, who are we to assume we can correct God? And on the other, who are we to assume we know everything he’s up to? There’s a reason God stresses that he’s the “Almighty” over and over in his speech. We’re weak. He’s all-strong, not just in ability but in wisdom.
Who do we think we are?
And the amazing thing is, in that question of rebuke there’s comfort. Who do I think I am? Not the Creator. I’m only a creature—and a creature nowhere near as powerful or strong even as the Leviathan. I’m not God, and that’s good. I’m glad he’s the Almighty. I’m thankful he never needs to be corrected. And I rest in the fact that he’s always up to things beyond my comprehension. At all times—but especially in our sufferings—may he give us the grace to view him as the God he is.