You try to do the right thing. You give money to a child who begs when you visit a third world country - but your kind action encourages a helpless, begging culture. You visit a third world orphanage, unaware that those children are a perverted kind of tourist attraction run by a fat pimp. The sewing machines your donation paid for rust in the rain for want of training and materials to maintain them. Or the child you sponsor turns out to be hated by their community for being the ‘have’ in a village of have-nots.
I’m not trying to depress you, and I don’t want you to stop caring about people in need. Be generous - do whatever you can to relieve suffering. My point is that our knowledge is limited. Life is so very complicated. We can only see a small slice of what’s going on.
By Chapter 32 of the book of Job, Job’s friends have finally stopped trying to convince him that he must have sinned, to be suffering so terribly. He is utterly convinced that he hasn’t. In Chapter 32-38 another listener pipes up, a young man named Elihu, who has respectfully waited until his elders finished talking.
Elihu is a caricature of youth, full of passion, over-confidence, and black-and-white bluster. Elihu offers himself as a messenger who speaks for God, and he’ll pray on Job’s behalf to God for forgiveness - if Job will only admit that he sinned. Elihu accuses Job of being evil because he refuses to accept that the suffering God has inflicted on him is fair; and he defends God, saying it’s unthinkable that God would do wrong. Of course, Elihu is correct; it is unthinkable that God would do wrong; but Elihu forgets that there’s more going on than we can see; however comfortable it might be, there isn’t a simple one-to-one correspondence between action and outcome.
- Katie Peken