“The advanced in days aren’t wise; the old don’t understand what’s right.” — Job 32:9
Wow, nothing like some ancient, biblical age-ism, am I right??? Of course there is a context to this quote by Elihu (Eh-Lee-Hoo), the fourth person to appear and speak in light of Job’s suffering and by far the most fun person to summon from afar (“Elihoooooo!”). He has a particular complaint about the other three “friends” of Job who have thus far done a bad job of defending God and comforting their afflicted friend. They are older, so surely the wisdom of God should be more prominent among them, but instead, they completely mess it up. It seems to be a constant theme in Scripture that God, who defies all definition (on purpose), speaks wisdom through the most unlikely of sources… And THAT is a vital lesson for everyone living in these days of “my ignorance is as good as your fact” dialogue.
Oh, how I hate this opinion-based world we live in. It doesn’t matter whether or not one is speaking a good, formative bit of truth. If they are the wrong age, class, race, gender, or lack the appropriate sense of style or speech, they will be discredited for the sake of everyone’s ability to cling to their opinions, even if misinformed, because, as Scripture shows time and time again, WE JUST. WON’T. LEARN.
Rant is over, and it’s back to God stuffs. First, we will look at the need to listen. We also, however, are going to look at the need to speak, so don’t go anywhere.
Seriously, though, how often have we discredited the advice of others simply because of the package it came in? Sure, our older relatives can be out of touch, assuming everything still costs a dollar and the greatest achievement one can have in life is parenthood, but that doesn’t mean we ignore everything they say, especially if it rubs us the wrong way because it presents a different perspective. Maybe we need that perspective.
On the flip side, young people aren’t just hormone-driven idiots who are too spoiled to know real life. Are we spoiled? Often, yes. Are we idiots? Sure. EVERYONE is an idiot at one time or another, but that doesn’t mean that what we see, feel, learn, and experience isn’t real or informative. After all, who we are was largely learned from somewhere, so maybe some introspection would do us all some good. Again, maybe what we are saying or putting forth seems contradictory to what you feel you can be certain of, but maybe that’s a sign you need to listen, not shut down, because guess who learns to do the same…
The same applies to literally anyone. It doesn’t matter if they have a tin foil hat on their head, pushing a shopping cart across the highway. Sure, there may be some babble, but in one of those situations, I actually had a world of wisdom revealed to me. I’ve actually used this story as a sermon illustration before, but it is a great truth that gets to the heart of what I am saying.
I was walking across the highway to class at Southern Methodist University, where I attended seminary. As I was walking, a guy came up and asked if I have anything to give him. I had a few bucks, so I handed it over. He said, “God bless you.” I responded with, “I hope God blesses you.” What a moronic thing to say. Luckily, I was about to be reminded of something very important by a filthy man in ratty clothes that smelled as though he hadn’t showered. Ever. He looked at me with a confused look and said, “He just did.”
BOOM. See the lesson there? I had fallen into the trap of assuming that being blessed meant having all the material possessions I wanted and needed. It meant status and comfort. This guy reminded me that blessedness is encountering the presence and grace of God, whether that be through acts of kindness or some other avenue. Had I simply looked at his outward appearance, and had God not opened my ears, I would have missed a vital lesson.
Everyone can be a vessel for God’s wisdom and instruction, and if we close our minds to those we deem unlikely, we are wrong. As Elihu points out in our passage for today, Job 32:6-9, “the spirit in a person, the Almighty’s breath, gives understanding.” This is a reference to Genesis 2, when God brings humanity to life by breathing into them, but it also reveals something important: it’s not age, race, class, sin, innocence, orthodoxy, or heresy that determines whether or not a person is credible; it is whether or not God is speaking through them, and the only way to know whether or not that is the case is to shut up and listen. Is everything everyone ever says gold? Of course not, but how can we possibly know if we’ve already decided we aren’t listening? How many times have we missed opportunities to hear God speak because we didn’t like the person speaking for one reason or another?
Changing gears, what if you’re that “unlikely” person, the person who has been told they have nothing good to bring? Whether it’s by family, friends, peers, or that voice in your head and heart that constantly nag you to stay quiet, even when you feel that sensation in your gut telling you to chime in, you need to know that the Spirit of God gives you life, too. This means that you are someone through whom God could be trying to speak. While you still have to be open to learning, you also are someone who God made, who God loves, and whose insights matter. The world is worse off if you don’t offer your insight.
Will what you say always be welcome? No. Will it always be correct? No. If, however, you have special insight into a particular situation, if you have a question, or if you simply feel the overwhelming need to get something off your chest, do it. Even if it comes out wrong and results in a conversation that everyone learns from, you did something great. Yes, wait for clarification, wait until others get the chance to speak, listen first and wholeheartedly, but also trust God to speak through you and get in there!
Want to see some biblical examples of the unlikely becoming the vessel of God’s story?
- The classic: Balaam’s Donkey, Numbers 22. Numbers has some really good stuff in the midst of all the counting, and this story is one of them. A donkey corrects the donkey owner on his mistreatment of the poor beast of burden, all because the donkey saw the Angel of God, but the human owner (supposedly superior) could not. Interesting…
- Our current passage from Job. Elihu is the youngest guy there. To be young in ancient Israel was to be relatively useless, especially in matters of wisdom. However, Elihu is the only one God doesn’t correct or rebuke in the closing chapter. He seems to have gotten something right that the others did not.
- Have we thought about, I don’t know, JESUS? Jesus was, as far as anyone knew, the son of a carpenter. On top of that, this carpenter married an already pregnant girl. On top of all of those scandalous details (1st Century standards), they were from Nazareth, the no account city full of presumably no account people. Look at Mark 6:1-6. There are many stories that don’t match up among the Gospels, but Jesus not being listened to because of who he “was” and where he came from is a constant in ALL FOUR OF THEM. And this is the One who is the Incarnation of God!
These are just a few examples of this kind of behavior on the part of God. What behavior? The behavior of picking the least likely to bring some important stuff to the table. As you go out into the rest of your day, and as you go about your doings, join me in the effort to remember that you, me, and everyone/everything else in all of creation is made by God, marked by God, and sustained by God. As such, we all have the capability of being a vessel for God’s wisdom and love, if we would be brave enough to speak and, more importantly, wise enough to listen.
Peace be with you!