Job's friends knew that Job was a righteous man. They had benefitted many times from his generosity, his mercy, his grace, his wisdom, his kindness, his goodness. It's one of the reasons they were still his friends. If a guy is a total jerk or a two-faced monster, you don't stay friends for long. You certainly don't go and sit with him in his dust and ashes. And if you've only using him for his wealth or his blessings, you don't hang around after he's lost everything and has nothing left to give you. So the very fact that Job's friends are still here proves that they know who Job really is - he really is a good guy.
And yet, there is this tiny little shred of evidence that seems to suggest the contrary, this little thing called the complete destruction of Job's life by supernatural forces.
This brings us back to something we were talking about not that long ago - that Job's friends had only a certain knowledge about God. Job's friends knew that God would punish the wicked. They knew God's sense of justice and judgment. They knew (or so they thought) that bad things don't just happen to good people.
Faced, then, with choosing between what they thought they knew about Job and what they thought they knew about God, Job's friends - like many human beings - chose what they knew about God. Job, they concluded, just must not be the man they thought he was.
There are a couple of reasons for this. On the human side of things, we know that persons are more complex than we give them credit for. We know this because we know that we are more complex than we are often given credit for. We know that everyone lives a life outside of the time that we get to spend with them, that at the end of the day, every human being is left alone to himself or herself. We know that it's easy for someone to put on a display in public, to play a part, to create the image that they want us to see of them. We know that sometimes, even our closest friends have secrets we never would have imagined them having. We have all been blindsided a time or two by someone we thought we knew well, and so if you ask us if we're sure we know who someone is...no, we're not sure. If there's a question about someone, it's not too difficult a leap for us to start questioning, too.
But more than that is what we know about God. On the spiritual side of things, what we believe about God is huge. It's the foundation of the entire way that we relate to the world. If, for example, you know that God lives in justice and judgment, then you are mindful of your steps. You are able to let go a little bit of the wicked persons in your life and not seek your own vengeance because you know that God will take it for you. You are able to choose righteousness when given the choice because you believe God rewards you for it. What we believe about God is the most fundamental truth about how we live in the world.
Which means that if God is not who you thought He was, it shakes your life to the very core of it. Your very roots are rattled. You no longer know whether you're coming and going. You can't know if you made good choices or bad ones, right ones or wrong ones. Given the chance to choose again, you've lost your guidance system. If God is not who you thought He was, then how do you decide how to live in the world? Is He good? Do you live by His commands? Do you do your own thing, if He doesn't really care at all?
We are beings who are constantly torn between the eternal and the temporal, between our human experience and our soul's journey. And given the position of having to choose between the two, we are always going to choose the eternal. We are always going to give the benefit of the doubt to the soul things that we believe. Because we are far too intimate with our own human frailty to choose any differently.
So Job's friends knew who he was, but they also had these firm understandings about who God is. And in a position where they felt like they had to choose between the two, it's far, far easier to say that Job must not be who they thought he was than to say that maybe God isn't who they think He is. (Especially, we might add, if they happened to know Job's father and if our theory about Job's understanding of his suffering is correct. And if they are such good friends, we can fairly confidently say that they knew Job's family history.)
It's strange. We stand face-to-face with our neighbor, and we still want to believe that God is infinitely more knowable than the man looking back at us, who, we must confess, is a being made in the image of God himself.
Because, we know, that if Job turns out to be a wicked man, a great big jerk, or a two-faced monster, that's fairly easy for us to reconcile in our own minds. But if God is not just, if He is not good, if He is not knowable, if He is not loving, if He is not merciful, if He is not gracious...if God is not predictable and doesn't fit our definitions of Him...