Perhaps the voices of Job’s friends are the voices of reason, teaching us of things we have a hard time comprehending. On the one hand, Job is blameless in that his sin did not cause his suffering, as his friends are quick to accuse. On the other hand, no human is truly blameless. God is not in the business of tallying our offenses and doling out punishments. At the same time, we live in a flawed world, and in such a world humanity sins and suffering occurs. Maybe Job’s friend is helping him see that he is not flawless, and people who believe they are perfect are being dishonest with themselves.
Recently I watched a TED Talk about being wrong. In it, speaker Kathryn Schulz identified how our culture has made it a bad thing to be wrong. When we are kids in school we are rewarded for being right (good grades and praise) and punished for being wrong (poor marks and scolding). She suggested that being wrong can be a wonderful gift. If we are willing to acknowledge that we are wrong from time to time (ok, maybe most of the time), we open ourselves to learning and growing. If we can embrace our imperfection without shame, then we can open ourselves to the wonder of another’s rightness.
Maybe Zophar’s words are a gift to Job. By acknowledging he is not as blameless as he believes himself to be, he might open himself to a whole new world of exploration, discovery, relationship, and wonder.
Then Zophar the Naamathite answered: “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and should one full of talk be vindicated? Should your babble put others to silence, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? For you say, ‘My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God’s sight.’ But oh, that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many-sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If he passes through, and imprisons, and assembles for judgment, who can hinder him? For he knows those who are worthless; when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it? But a stupid person will get understanding, when a wild ass is born human.
“If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness reside in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure, and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. And you will have confidence, because there is hope; you will be protected and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid; many will entreat your favor. But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.”