Oh, the foolish wisdom of the well-meaning friends! In the time of Job, people believed those who suffered must have done something to deserve it. Intellectually we don’t believe that is true in our enlightened day. But in our hearts are we really so different? I believe there is something buried deep inside each of us that needs to believe there is a reason for suffering. To blame the victim is just one way of making sense of the senseless. If the victim is to blame, and I am not like that victim, then perhaps I might be spared a similar fate.
But we don’t live in a world where the victim is to blame. Or do we? (Click here to read more about how lightly a recent sexual assault offender was sentenced for the crime and the way the light sentence victimized the victim again.) Even today we still want to believe the victim must have had some part to play because we don’t want to believe suffering is random. If we accept the randomness and senselessness of suffering, then we may be the next to suffer randomly or senselessly.
Job’s closest friend was the first to turn on him, suggesting he was to blame for his own circumstances. After all, “who that was innocent ever perished?” Think now, are there any victims that you have fully or partially blamed for their own suffering? What about the sexual assaults that have involved alcohol or drug use? What about the young black men killed by police? How might our own fears about the randomness and chaos of suffering play a role in where we place blame?
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?
“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. The roar of the lion, the voice of the fierce lion, and the teeth of the young lions are broken. The strong lion perishes for lack of prey, and the whelps of the lioness are scattered.
“Now a word came stealing to me, my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh bristled. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like a moth. Between morning and evening they are destroyed; they perish forever without any regarding it. Their tent-cord is plucked up within them, and they die devoid of wisdom.’”