The 34th chapter of the Book of Job is particularly dense and it does it no justice to summarize it, but even so one can walk away with four key points:
First, Elihu paraphrases the wrong things Job stated in his speeches, highlighting the latter’s most crucial errors. Job asserted he was just, but he was not according to his own righteousness. If he were, he would never make the error that one gains nothing in being faithful to God. The mind of the saints (Paul, Peter, and Maximus) asserts the opposite, as suffering is efficacious towards salvation precisely because it puts to death self will and instead open ones up to participating in divine life, the life of Christ. Being conformed to Christ is Theosis and salvation.
Second, Job is called out for answering back to the king. This was an ironic inverting of Job’s accusation against God that He is allegedly at fault for overturning the social order in Job 12. In other words, God is allegedly unjust for permitting social institutions which perpetuate justice to be damaged. Elihu exposes Job’s unintentional hypocrisy, as he answers back at the King and by his own standards would be worthy of punishment.
Third, Job’s most caustic criticisms of God, where in Job 21 He is accused of blessing the wicked in their works, are critiqued with an inversion which categorically denies God permits anything good to happen to the wicked. In short, Elihu is calling out Job for being too extreme.
Fourth, Elihu makes the point that God permits evil to exist for the sake of the just, using the death of someone who would otherwise become “a snare to the people” as an example. Saint Paul speculates:
What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory? (Rom 9:22-23)
One must seriously acknowledge God permits evil for the sake of the just, the predestined, the faithful Christians. Sometimes evil is not permitted in a singular event (the death of someone before he becomes a snare to the people), but it is allowed to endure (such as an evil society which persists for centuries). God works in all these things. With the eyes of faith, one can see God permits evil “to make His power known” and what closer way to know God’s power than to become God Himself? This transformation (cf 2 Cor 3:18) into His likeness occurs via suffering. (cf Rom 6:5)
Christ “came not to be served, but to serve;” (Matt 20:28) and He did not die for the innocent, as there are none, but for “the unrighteous.” (1 Pet 3:18) He suffered for those who merited no forgiveness. Salvation is entirely unmerited and it is bestowed to man by grace, literally participating in union with God. Man is given everything, the Infinite, having done nothing to acquire it. Man merely receives this salvation with the empty hands of faith–not mere belief, but the will which permits God to take over.
And so, to reject the sufferings and opportunities to receive this grace, when the sufferings and good works open one’s hands, is to reject faith. This is why Saint James observes that when Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac “by works faith was made perfect.” (James 2:22) Patiently enduring suffering through faith enables the reception of salvation. This is why God permits suffering. Thanks be to God, the one who bestows grace bestows the will to receive it.
This will is often prepared subconsciously and intangibly, but more often it is providentially shaped by events, usually bad ones, which God permits to transpire to prepare the will to act accordingly. While it is theologically true that man’s will cooperates with God’s in this process, the will to cooperate itself is God’s gift so that man may not boast (cf Eph 2:8) that he has anything that he did not receive from God. (cf 1 Cor 4:7) As Saint John Chrysostom teaches:
If you will, in that case He will work in you to will. Be not affrighted, you are not worsted; both the hearty desire and the accomplishment are a gift from Him: for where we have the will, thenceforward He will increase our will. For instance, I desire to do some good work: He has wrought the good work itself, and by means of it He has wrought also the will. (Homily 8 on Philippians)
We must come to God humbly, like children, receiving His good gifts with the acknowledgement that they are undeserved. Because this is true, let us pray as the Optina Elders did:
At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of this day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.
And so, we must accept suffering, knowing that the God who loves us more than we can ever possibly love ourselves “works all things for good to those who love God, that He has called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) May He through our daily struggles open our hands to receive His grace.