For today’s study in the book of Job, we are looking at a portion of the first response by Job’s three friends to his predicament. These three men have been silent since they first appeared on the scene in Job 2:11–13, but with Job’s cursing the day of his birth it seems that their sympathy has run out. Job’s remarks have apparently confirmed their suspicion that Job has brought on his suffering by his sin. For them, it was intolerable that Job should question divine wisdom even implicitly (chap. 3). Thus, Eliphaz jumps right in and asserts that the innocent do not perish and the upright are never cut off (4:7). The implication is clear—if Job were not guilty of transgression, disaster would never have struck him and his family.
While we can sympathize with the intent of Job’s friends to “protect” the Lord from even an implicit questioning of His character, in the end Eliphaz and the others come across as foolish for being so quick to look for guilt in Job. Remember that we have already been told that Job is an upright man who in his initial response to his sufferings “did not sin [or] charge God with wrong” (1:1, 22; 2:10). Obviously, Job’s friends do not have the benefit of the inspired interpretation of Job’s response that we get from the author of the book of Job. Yet that is what makes their statements so foolish. They cannot see the whole picture, but they jump to conclusions anyway. Based on a simplistic view of the moral order, they conclude that since God is righteous, those who are righteous will never experience great suffering and, consequently, that the only reason why anyone suffers is because of specific, personal sin.
God’s Word will not let us have such a naive understanding of life in this fallen world. Even in that portion of Scripture that might lend the most support to the theology of Job’s friends, we find the recognition that death and suffering do not always correspond to specific sin. We are referring to the Pentateuch, specifically the blessings and cursings of God’s law that make it seem as if good behavior in Israel is always rewarded abundantly and sin is always punished with great suffering (Deut. 28). Yet even when the covenant community is obeying the Lord and enjoying blessing, there will still be unexpected deaths (19:4–5). The point is that even under the conditions of covenant obedience, suffering happens because we live in a fallen world. Job’s friends are wrong to see his suffering as conclusive proof of personal sin, and we would be wrong to adopt their view of suffering.