Job’s Anecdotal Evidence: A Court Summons to God
Job 36-37: Elihu Continues. More Lessens to be Drawn

Drinking in Derision Like Water—Job 34

Elihu is now rolling with his single speech that spans 6 chapters. What are we to make of Job 34:7?

What other man is like Job, Who drinks up derision like water?

At first glance, it might just seem an acknowledgment that Job suffers a lot. But ‘suffering’ is not the word used. It is ‘derision’: criticism, mockery, ridicule. But he is not just experiencing derision, as though a helpless victim drowning in the stuff. He is drinking it up. 

The expression, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,’ may help. In Job’s case, he has not only been led to water, but he is ‘drinking it up’—avidly.

Who derides him? His three assailants, who had originally come to comfort him. When does it happen? Whenever he starts carrying on about his fine conduct before God. The implication is that if he kept his mouth shut, it wouldn’t happen. The three thugs would soon get bored and go away.

Seen in this light, might we revisit Elihu’s prior words (“Speak, for I want to prove you right” at 33:32) as though meaning: ‘I want to prove you right but you are making it difficult! Knock it off with ‘drinking down derision,’ already!’ The fellow really is a good opening act for God, who, by restoration of his former station and fortune, really does convey the verdict that Job is ‘right.’

Elihu isn’t the gem with critics that he is within the Jehovah’s Witness world. Says the Watchtower (10/1/57): “Modern critics call Elihu ‘loquacious’ and say his speeches were ‘longwinded,’ because he spoke so extendedly, presenting the material that is contained in chapters 32 through 37 in the book of Job.” (A ‘pompous little windbag,’ another has called him. “But Elihu saw that the vindicating of Jehovah God was more important than the vindicating of any man,” the Watchtower continues. So it’s okay. Sky’s the limit if you’re going to do that, they say.

Elihu’s reproof of Job has huge ramifications for me, though I probably won’t be instructed by it. Keep an argument going forever and you are, in effect, drinking up derision. Your opponent does not give up. As often as not, several of his allies join in to tell you what a dope you are.

Now, a few caveats. One, it’s not as though Job has anything else to do. Why not kick back at his opponents? As long as he realizes it’s not going anywhere, what’s the harm? Trouble is, he does think it should go somewhere and it causes him major angst when it does not. It’s his own fault, Elihu says. Zip his own mouth and it won’t happen.

As a second caveat, to a certain degree, I already have learned from this principle. I don’t keep disputes going anything like I once did. State a few point as cogently as I can, and then retire. Twitter (X) helped me enormously in this, with its character limit that forced the windbags to be concise. Usually, one must give an opponent the last word, because no way is he ever going to accede that to you—unless you want to squabble to your dying day, you grant the final word to him. For the most part, it is the position any Christian finds himself in with relation to the greater world. Previously, I have said such things as, ‘The key to such discussion is to know that you will lose. Opponents must have their day in the sun before the Great Arguer puts an end to matters once and for all, turning defeat into victory.

A third caveat—I dunno, is it really a caveat, or is it a corollary?—It dovetails quite nicely with current counsel not to ‘engage’ with ‘apostates’—even if I suspect that counsel is taken to an excessive degree. When you do so ‘engage,’ as often as not, you end up ‘drinking in derision as water,’ because you will find they do not give up. I think this is because ‘genuine’ apostasy (as opposed to the ‘wild talk’ of someone who has been hurt) is a matter of the heart, and as such, is poorly addressed by reason, a product of the head. ‘Taste and see that Jehovah is good,’ the Psalm says. What if someone has tasted and seen He is bad? Will you be able to reason with him that his tastebuds are off?

End of caveats. Back to Job’s ‘drinking in derision like water.’ He shouldn’t do it, is apparently Elihu’s point. Apart from whether he should do it or not (for few have done it as much as me, even if I have mellowed some), it ought to be apparent that it never gets one anywhere, that is, if ‘getting anywhere’ means persuading the other person. (If it means, sharpening your own cogency, that is a different matter.) In all the time I have spent online, going on many years, rarely does one see anyone change at all with regard to core positions. Might this be because matters of the heart are handled as though they are matters of the head?

To the extent this is true, I am highly suspicious of new-fangled terms that have to do with refining the intellect—‘critical thinking’, ‘confirmation bias’, and maybe to top it all, the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect,’ which means the dumber people are, the more they think they are in the know. As often as not, the one most insistent on ‘critical thinking’ assumes he has a lock on the stuff. The one who hammers us about ‘confirmation bias’ is blind to his own. Invoking ‘Dunning-Kruger’ is just a means of insulting one’s opponents, who are ‘arrogant’—if they weren’t arrogant, they would fall into line and stop opposing. It is all school-yard bullying couched in intellectual terms.

If it really is so that God is looking into hearts, not heads, then even ChatGBT represents a giant step in leading humanity towards the dead-end of supposing heart matters can be settled by the head. It’s sort of like G K Chesterton commenting on science, that gold-standard of those who trust in the head—saying something to the effect of, ‘Science is at its best when you can tell it where to go.’ As a tool of discovery, it’s great. As the be-all and end-all, it falls laughably short. Better to simply accede to the Bible’s ‘be reasonable,’ and to tell oneself that we don’t have to know everything. At any rate, we can’t know everything, so it is better for the health to acknowledge we don’t have to. 

Keep science in its place and it is fine. But use it with an overreliance on ‘critical thinking,’ freedom from ‘confirmation bias’ and self-assurance that Dunning-Kruger applies to those people, not you, and it is like the dolt fine-tuning his old Chevy for that cross-country trip, when anyone with half a brain knows its the new Ford he should take. The old Chevy will probably collapse. But the old Chevy looks better—he likes the styling—and he want’s to impress his friends.

Job says, (31:35): “If only someone would listen to me! I would sign my name to what I have said. Let the Almighty answer me!” Elihu (later) replies, “Your legal case is before him, so you should wait anxiously for him.” (35:14)

God shows up for the court summons Job has issued! Let no one say He is not humble; if the gerbils issued you a court summons, would you show up? But when he does, it is to cross-examine Job, not be questioned by him. In the end, he never does answer Job’s questions, and yet Job is satisfied. Chesterton’s take? “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

There is a limit to the answers we can demand of God. I think of Anthony Morris relating to the convention how he began to sweat when his house didn’t sell, yet he desperately needed the money for some soon-to-occur obligation. ‘It’s getting a little tight here,’ he related, looking upward, but then gave the aside, ‘He’s God—he can do what he wants.’ In the end, his house sold with minutes to spare. He streamlined a few procedures. ‘It isn’t usually done that way,’ the buyer observed. ‘It is today,’ he shot back. 

Get a few experiences like that under your belt and it is the making of strong faith—but it’s nothing you can prove to another person. If someone says God had nothing to do with it, you certainly can’t reason him out of it. ‘Let each one be convinced in his own mind.’

Better to focus on qualities of the heart—you know, those qualities recommended so much that they are considered prerequisites for appointment to Christian oversight. How does God feel about qualities of the head? Beyond that of being ‘reasonable,’ are there even any of such qualities on the list? I mean, if you think you have such qualities of the head, by all means, bring your gift to the altar. But don’t for one moment think they are as valuable as qualities of the heart. Use your gift to support, to buttress, to frame in public relations terms what it seems the heart people have neglected to adequately frame. That is far better, to my mind, and hopefully far more pleasing to God, than to insinuate, to undermine, to thrust forth your solution as the solution that your less intellectually-endowed brothers ought to follow.

In the end, the things of God are elusive. You just can’t shake Him down to spill, and certainly not by means of your intellect. He’ll do what he does and you won’t know until he does it; surely, that is among the lessons of Job.  Elihu’s reproof of Job stands, buttressed later by God himself. There are some places you just don’t go—such as Job’s demand that God explain himself. It is not so much that he can’t be forgiven for going there. He can and he is. It is that going there does him no good. He just ends up harming himself. God will explain when he explains. In the meantime, you’d best go easy on your fellow slaves, because, ‘to his own master he stands or falls,’ not to you. 

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Comments

Cory

Great post. A lot of these points are good for putting some things behind me and moving forward. One point I really relate to: letting go of "trying or needing to know/understand everything". For me, this is a self-preservation impulse that has gone off the rails. And like you say, there are real limitations here. It is scriptural, healthy, and dignified, I think, to use one's power of reason and hone one's powers of discernment. But defensively needing to convince others or defensively demanding explanations ramps up frustration and can damage worthwhile relationships.

[Thank you, Cory. I’m having a good time going through Job. I plan to write it all up in overall form later, maybe combine it with other items about God’s toleration of suffering and evil.

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