“Porcupine Theologians”

porcupine theologians photo
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said… (Job 4:1)

After sitting silently for seven days with their beleaguered buddy, Job’s three friends begin to speak in chapter four of Job, and they continue their harangues for over thirty chapters. In response to Job’s outburst of pent up emotion brought on by prolonged excruciating pain they launch into a seemingly never-ending series of monotonous monologues. Each man comes at Job with a different basis for his sermon authority: Eliphaz speaks from personal experience, Bildad makes his case from tradition and Zophar appeals to Job on sheer dogmatism. But all conclude that Job is suffering because he has hidden sin (not true) and each advise Job to repent and turn to God. Because of their harsh and aggressive approach these guys have taken a lot of heat over the millennia since they so willingly wagged their fingers at their woebegone brother. But I believe Job’s friends were well intentioned men who were guilty of speaking too soon and saying too much.

These three men actually had plenty of good to say. In fact they are quoted by New Testament writers. The problem is that they said too much. And “where there are many words sin is not lacking”. In talking so much the trickle of truth they shared was largely lost in a deluge of error. And because they spoke so soon–apparently with a predetermined position–even the right things they said they said in the wrong way.

Unfortunately we often play the role of Job’s friends; we judge according to circumstance and we respond to the words on a pained person’s lip without ever really hearing their heart. In doing so we become porcupine theologians: making many fine points but impossible to touch. How easy it is to assess others by their actions while assessing ourselves by our intentions. We hold them accountable for what they do but we so desire grace for what we meant to do. It would do us good to reverse this and make a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt.

First Corinthians 13:4-7 grants us one of the most detailed descriptions of love in the New Testament. Reading through that section of scripture we find that love is not “blind” as is often said. Love sees more. But in seeing more, love actually chooses to see less. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11). I wonder how differently the story of a Job would have read–and how differently they would have been remembered–had his three finger pointing pals approached him with a heart to overlook his obvious shortcomings and not try to mine out hidden sins. I further wonder what my family or my church would look like if we could more consistently hold our tongues long enough to hear someone’s heart, and intentionally look past blind spots in the lives of those who have a history of faithfulness to God but are having submerged weaknesses brought to the surface during a difficult season.

Father, make us men and women of love, who think more than we speak and pray more than we think.

Pastor Mike

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