Posted: 17 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
THE SECOND ROUND OF BILDAD the Shuhite (Job 18) has a note of desperation to it. When the argument is weak, some people just yell louder.
Bildad begins by telling Job, in effect, that there is no point talking with him until he adopts a sensible stance (Job 18:2). Job is worse than wrong: he is perverse or insane. In Bildad's view, Job is willing to overturn the very fabric of the universe to justify himself: "You who tear yourself to pieces in your anger, is the earth to be abandoned for your sake? Or must the rocks be moved from their place?" (Job 18:4).
The rest of the chapter is given over to a horrific description of what happens to the wicked person—destroyed, despised, trapped, subject to calamity and disaster, terrified, burned up, cut off from the community. "The memory of him perishes from the earth; he has no name in the land" (Job 18:17). People from the east and from the west alike are "appalled at his fate" (Job 18:20)—and of course this means he serves as an admirable moral lesson for those with eyes to see.
Up to this point, the three "miserable comforters" have united in agreeing that Job is wicked. Unless the last verse of the chapter is mere parallelism, the charge now seems to be ratcheted up a notch: "Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God" (Job 18:21). Job, in short, is not only wicked, but utterly ignorant of God.
It is time to reflect a little on this sort of charge. At one level, what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar keep saying is entirely in line with a repeated theme of the Scriptures: God is just, and justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Everyone will one day acknowledge that God is right—whether in the reverent submission of faith, or in the terror that cries for the rocks and the mountains to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6). The theme recurs in virtually every major corpus of the Bible. The alternative to judgment is appalling: there is no final and perfect judgment, and therefore no justice, and therefore no meaningful distinction between right and wrong, between good and evil. Not to have judgment would be to deny the significance of evil.
But to apply this perspective too quickly, too mechanically, or as if we have access to all the facts, is to destroy the significance of evil from another angle. Innocent suffering (as we have seen) is ruled out. To call a good man evil in order to preserve the system is not only personally heartless, but relativizes good and evil; it impugns God as surely as saying there is no difference between good and evil. Sometimes we must simply appeal to the mystery of wickedness.
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