Summary: Job, struggling to find his source of meaning, is frustrated with Bildad, who finds meaning in the past; and with his own feelings, looking for meaning in the present. Look to Christ, who provides meaning from the future.
Sooner or later, we all come to a point where we wake up and ask ourselves what life means. This life we are living: does it matter? All this energy we are putting in on studying or working or church or family or whatever: is it really necessary? I submit to you that most of us at one time or another will ask that kind of question. What does it all mean?
A number of years ago, I watched my father growing older and beginning to ask that question. He had spent his entire adult life working hard, and he hadn’t thought about much else. Too busy to think about great ideas. Too tired after getting up at four in the morning to go out and carry the mail to think deep philosophical questions. Too frustrated at the petty politics that powered the postal service to pine away his time in cosmic issues. But the time came when he began to ask whether his life mattered.
It came about the time the last of my grandparents died. I was in my teens when it happened, and he and I just went for a walk after the funeral. My father said to me as we walked around the old neighborhood, “You know, I could have been something, if it hadn’t been for them. I really could have been something.” He went on to talk about his earliest ambition, which was to be a pastor. But, as an eighteen-year-old, he brought that idea home, and his father had said, “Not in my family, you don’t. No preachers in this family!” So, my father dropped that idea.
Several years later, after he had met and married my mother, he had also developed quite a gift for music. He had become good enough that a radio station up in Cincinnati offered him a chance to sing professionally, and he wanted to move there and take that opportunity. But this time, not his father but his father-in-law said, “No way are you going to break up this family. No, you are not taking my daughter off to live with the *** Yankees in Ohio.” And so he gave up that dream. He stayed at home, worked at carrying the mail, and raised his two sons.
But now the last of the old generation had died. And as he began to think about what he could have been, he found that he resented what he had lost. He was frustrated by what he had missed. And now he was asking himself whether his life really had any meaning. More than that, he also began to find fault. He began to blame.
If, when you get to that point, you don’t measure up to what you think you could have been, who are you going to blame? With whom will you find fault? Faultfinding is our usual human response to failure. Somebody has to take the blame. Somebody has to be at fault. Now who is at fault if I don’t become what I think I could have become?
Job felt that. He had worked hard and had accumulated a great deal, but once it was taken away, he felt empty, useless, pointless. Job felt that his life might just as well end; the sheer number of times he said that he loathed his life is truly frightening. Frankly, if Job were sitting in my office talking with me, I would be running into the next room to dial 911. He sounds as near suicidal as anybody I’ve ever encountered.
And yet there is also something wonderfully honest about Job. There is something refreshing about him, because he won’t quit asking for justice. He demands that somebody show him where his life has gone wrong. Job thinks he has played by the rules, and now all this mess?! Somebody is at fault here! Something is out of whack here. Somebody has to be blamed!
Job is like a friend of mine who said that he got so sick one day he was afraid he was going to die. And then he got so much sicker he was afraid he wasn’t going to die and be put out of his misery! Job is so anxious to see if his life has had any meaning, and if not, whose fault is it anyway?
Now Job has a friend named Bildad. And Bildad has an answer. Bildad has a way of measuring meaning. In the conversation between Bildad and Job we learn a whole lot about faultfinding and about where you can go to measure your life’s meaning.
Bildad’s word is: consider the past as your source of meaning. Consider the past. Bildad’s wisdom is that you should look to the past and see if you have kept faith with history. Bildad’s idea is to satisfy what others have expected of you, those who have gone before you. Don’t step out into new territories. Stay with the tried and true. Bildad’s notion is that if you want to know whether your life has meaning, find out whether you did what tradition, custom, habit, other’s expectations taught you to do.