Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding? Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water? While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile ; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold. They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its shoots over the garden; it entwines its roots around a pile of rocks and looks for a place among the stones. But when it is torn from its spot, that place disowns it and says, ‘I never saw you.’ Surely its life withers away, and from the soil other plants grow. – Job 8:8-19
In this passage we have the second friend, Bildad from Shuah, providing more “advice” to Job. He defends God and assumes that Job’s afflictions are the result of a lack of faith or some other failing on the part of Job. It seems that Bildad is convinced that Job is “disconnected from the spring” and godless. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to know where someone else is with their relationship with God. Yet Bildad is convinced that Job is a “reed without water”.
Bildad is correct in his understanding that we all need to be planted by the River to grow “tall” in our relationship with God. The way Bildad puts this is very interesting…”While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass”. This suggests that our relationship with God can undergo a slow fade. We may outwardly have the appearance that we are still “growing and uncut”, but we are withering inside. Casting Crowns has a song about this that I really like called “Stain Glass Masquerade”, below are selected parts of the lyrics:
“…Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small
Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong…
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart
But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be
Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay”
Bildad has misinterpreted Job’s affliction, but he does have some important words for those who really have forgotten God. They have placed their trust in unreliable things as flimsy as a spider’s web. Even when the web fails them they cling to it…”They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, spreading its shoots over the garden.” But this plant is sinking its roots into a pile of rocks instead of the One River.
The take home message here is to be very careful when “advising” a fellow follower of God. We often see and perceive the spiritual realm very imperfectly. It is very easy for our perception of someone else’s relationship with God to be colored by our own.
Prayer: God help us to approach others following you with grace, humility, and patience.