“I am young and you are old, so I held back and did not dare to tell you what I think. I thought, ‘Those who are older should speak, for wisdom comes with age.'” -Elihu, friend of Job
But what if it doesn’t? What if the older are not wiser at all? What if they’ve missed the lessons they should have learned along the way? What if their advice is of little use, or even harmful?
These words jumped out at me the other day as I was reading through the book of Job, and they’ve been rolling around in my head ever since. (Probably because I keep reading and re-reading the debate.) Elihu had deferred to the older friends simply because they were older. He let them speak and continue to debate with Job out of respect for their age (and the supposed wisdom that came with that age). That’s fine, but at some point, he’d heard enough of their wrong-headed thinking and had to speak up. The discussion had degenerated into the 3 friends telling Job he’d messed up and Job saying he hadn’t. (My 4 year old argues better than that!) Their insistence that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people was nonsense. In addition to that, Job’s arrogance by this time had escalated to a point that had to be confronted. So Elihu points out a truth that we need to hear as well:
“Surely it is God’s Spirit within people, the breath of the Almighty within them, that makes them intelligent. But sometimes the elders are not wise. Sometimes the aged do not understand justice. So listen to me and let me express my opinion.” -Elihu, friend of Job
Wisdom is not a byproduct of survival – it is the result of the presence of the Spirit of God. Just because I’m older than you doesn’t mean I’m wiser. So Elihu speaks up – with humility. He could stay silent no longer, so he chastised the 3 friends and presents his case against Job and for God’s justice and power. His voice was sort of a pre-echo of what God would soon say Himself.
I think one of the shackles the church puts up with today is that we’ve marginalized the young and have discounted the validity of their input. Younger generations feel like they’re waiting and waiting for their turn to speak, but it never comes. It’s no wonder the biggest gap in so many churches is people 18-35; they’re tired of waiting, so they move on to meaningful service somewhere else. When we consistently isolate the young from the old, we rob the young of the pleasure of fully participating in the ministry of Christ AND we rob the old of fresh vantage points from which to paint the vivid story of His conquest of death.
Maybe we need more Elihus to humbly deliver fresh words of truth. Maybe we need to ignore a person’s age and hear the Spirit within them. Maybe we need to pay more attention when someone lives this out: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you teach, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” -Paul, friend of Jesus