Every once in a while one comes across a passage in a book that sounds exactly like something one would say. Today I would like to discuss one such passage, which occurs in Job 32:17-22. I would first like to provide the passage, discuss why it applies to me, and then to examine some of the further aspects of the “Elihu Problem” with regards to the Church of God culture, and how people misunderstand what Elihu was all about and his approach. With that, let us begin.
Job 32:17-22 comes towards the beginning of Elihu’s address to Job and his three “friends.” The passage reflects the compulsion he was under to speak: “I also will answer my part, I too will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me compels me. Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; it is ready to burst like new wineskins. I will speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone; nor let me flatter any man. For I do not know how to flatter, Else my Maker would soon take me away.”
Now, few passages in the Bible describe my own style and rationale for communication so accurately, though whether that is a good thing or a bad thing I am not entirely sure. At any rate, as someone who is very much like Elihu the Buzite, it is worthwhile to examine precisely how this passage ends up being so appropriate to describing my own communication. Let us examine each of them in turn: the prolific nature of my communication, the compulsion to speak, and the inability to flatter and disinclination to show partiality. For those familiar with my writing all of them should be obvious, but it is worth examining briefly nonetheless.
First of all, let us note that like Elihu (see Job 32-37), I am a prolific writer. The entries on this blog, over 200 in number in the last 70 days or so, are only a small selection of my writings, which include dozens (maybe even hundreds) of essays and articles, hundreds of book reviews, about a dozen short stories, over 60 complete plays, and over two thousand poems. Quite simply, of writings there is no end. The more I read and hear, the more I write, and the more connections I uncover between far ranging fields such as sports, religion, military history, international relations, and culture. The more connections there are, there more there is to write about and discuss. I am grateful for the tolerance of those who read my works, often quietly, and I appreciate the conversations I am able to have with others about their own thoughts and experiences.
Second, I would like to point out that my speaking out is not an entirely voluntary thing. I do not particularly desire a huge amount of attention, but rather I feel compelled to speak out about certain things. For one, I feel compelled to speak out and defend those who are the victims of injustice, or whose cases are unjustly ignored or denied. I am compelled to defend those who are suffering bullying or abuse, given how much I suffer when I see others suffer abuse (personal identification is a terrible thing). This has led me numerous times in my life to speak up in very hostile environments, and regardless of the invective wicked men have turned my way, I am unable to refrain from speaking out simply because my spirit is too strong within me to speak out even when it would be more politic to be quiet.
Third, like Elihu, I have no interest in showing partiality to any man, but simply to defend the truth and find relief for what is within me that must be told, however many times it is necessary to do so, and whatever preference I might have not to tell it. I speak out because I hope someone will read and pay attention, will heed whatever wise warning I may provide, or may be able to make a connection themselves between the sometimes obscure and often unusual subjects I tackle (usually because they are unusual and obscure) and more obvious and personally relevant issues that are important in implication, so that others may have food for thought and reflection for themselves, even if they choose not to be so public in their own expression of what they think, feel, and experience. It is not my desire to run for office–it is my desire that what I know and have experienced be of use to other people and that it not simply be wasted by being stuck inside of me. As Anna Nalick sang in her song “Breathe (2 AM)”:
“2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song.
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd,
‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud,
And I know that you’ll use them however you want to .”
That said, let us examine the larger cultural relevance of Elihu. A friend of mine, and fellow historian, often is bothered by Elihu wannabes who use the statements of Elihu as the warrant to say all sorts of cruel and harsh things about others without any sort of compassion or any sort of insight. This is a legitimate and serious concern, and it is my hope that as blunt as I may be that I am not harsh and lacking in human compassion, even if I am not by nature a particularly empathetic person, nor a person whose tone in either speaking or (especially) writing is likely to convey the considerable concern I have for the feelings and well being of other people.
Let us note that of the five human speakers whose words fill the vast majority of Job, Elihu was the only one who did not have to repent of his words. Job, whose suffering I have been able to understand a lot better as I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, had to repent for bringing up a lawsuit against God. Once his covenantal lawsuit was dropped, God gave him the vindication he requested (even demanded). Job was therefore accounted as much more righteous, despite his forthright questioning of God, than Job’s three friends, whose pious-sounding bromides were roundly condemned by God, and who had to have Job sacrifice to God on their behalf (Job 42:7-9).
What is noteworthy is that God implicitly vindicates Elihu and explicitly vindicates Job, whose words are the most serious questioning, and condemns the prosperity gospel of Job’s three “friends.” It would therefore appear that what God desired was to have His authority vindicated (by Elihu) and to have His servants wrestle with the very serious issue of why horrible and unjust things happen to righteous people (as Job did). I have already stated elsewhere, and do not wish to repeat it again about my own lengthy and fierce struggles to understand God’s justice in my own life  , and I have no doubt that these experiences have made me especially sensitive to injustices elsewhere.
What those who engage in as wannabe Elihus is not the sort of behavior that Elihu himself exhibited. He was filled with a zealous and passionate concern for God, much like Job, and his rebuke of Job (and of Job’s friends) was from that place of obedience. In fact, Job and Elihu themselves were both wrestling with the tension between the authority of God and the righteousness of God’s judgment in a world where unspeakably horrible things happen unjustly to innocents. It is their wrestling with the justice and authority of God without any sort of sanctimonious distancing from the serious nature of the problem of evil within human existence that makes them justified in the eyes of God.
While Job’s “friends” tried to pawn off all bad events as being the result of sin, much like the people of Jesus’ day who asked if the man blind from birth had sinned or if his parents had sinned, thinking those the only two options, when in reality the blindness had been allowed so that Jesus could show His power (John 9:1-3), Job’s suffering had a greater purpose that was not visible to human beings. That is what a true Elihu does–wrestle with God’s justice and defend vociferously the authority of God to do what He wills. Those who seek to spout harsh condemnation of brethren and heap burdens on others while just saying that they are doing what Elihu did speak without understanding and without biblical sanction. Elihu gave tough love out of a genuine concern for Job’s well being–most wannabe Elihus have no such desire to help those whom they abuse with slander and invective. That makes all the difference. For Elihu, like much of my own writing, is only seeking to obey the command of God in Leviticus 19:17-18: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Let us not forget that great commandment in our own dealings, so that we may truly be like Elihu, rather than merely feigning to be like him.