Vol.VIII, June 2002


"Even With His Angels He Finds Fault" (Job 4:18)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

After "Seven days and seven nights" Job "broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth" (Job 2:13; 3:1). He repeats the question boring at his heart: "Why?" and is tempted to resign: "My only food is sighs, and my groans pour out like water. Whatever I fear comes true, whatever I dread befalls me. For me, there is no calm, no peace; my torments banish rest" (3:24-26).

1. At this juncture, Job’s friends enter. The first is Eliphaz who tries to impose on Job an "undisputed law of justice" concerning man’s suffering: Before God every man without exception is in debt. Eliphaz goes so far as to claim: "Can a mortal seem upright to God? Would anybody seem pure in the presence of his Maker? God cannot rely even on His own servants, even with His angels He finds fault. What then of those who live in houses of clay, who are founded on dust? ...Make your appeal then. Will you find an answer? To which of the holy one will you turn?" (4:17-5:1).

To Eliphaz’s mind Job is surely guilty before God; moreover, not even among the angels can he find anyone to advocate his case of innocence.

Notwithstanding Job, conscious of no guilt, remains convinced of his innocence. This leaves him desolate, for he can see no reason for his suffering. He does not contest that justice demands punishment for every evil, but he asks himself: For what evil am I suffering? What did I do wrong? What was my mistake? When did I offend God, and offend Him so much that I merit these "malignant ulcers"?

To clarify the matter we need to scrutinize Eliphaz’s specious argument: "God cannot rely even on His own servants, even with His angels He finds fault." Recall that Eliphaz does not speak for the Holy Spirit; he will be reproved for his erroneous theology. Hence, whatever the truth he may cite in favor of his position, it is somehow being taken out of context. Other translations help. One reads: "He put no trust in His servants; and His angels He charged with folly". The Douay-Rheims version goes like this: "Behold they that serve Him are not steadfast, and in His angels He found wickedness". Two points come to the fore: the imputation of guilt is placed in the past tense, referring to some past event(s). Secondly, the fault in one version is simply ‘folly’ which could be taken as the extreme opposite of the wisdom of God. One could thus understand the text to refer to the ontological disproportion between God, the Creator and each and every creature, even the highest. St. Thomas insisted that the angels too were fallible, capable of faults, a truth verified again by their fall. Hence, by nature no creature can be seen as an absolutely trustworthy collaborator for God.

2. We can analyze this idea further.

a) It is certainly true, that God cannot rely on or trust in the intelligence of the angels. Even if the intelligence of the least angel is much higher than man’s, the angelic mind remains incomparably less than God’s! God’s many-sided wisdom is not and cannot be fully known by the angels (cf. Eph 3:9-11). Do we not read that the "angels long to catch a glimpse of these things" (1 Pet 1:12)? Already the secret thoughts of man’s are unknown to them (cf. 2 Chr 6:30). Likewise, they have no a priori knowledge of the mysteries of grace (cf. e.g. CCC 2780). Hence, to the angels, too, God could well say: "My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways, declares Yahweh. For the heavens are as high above the earth as My ways are above your ways, My thoughts above your thoughts" (Is 55:8-9). - St. Thomas Aquinas clarifies this: "No created mind can see the essence" and science and will "of God unless He by His grace joins Himself to that mind as something intelligible to it" (Summa Theologica, I,12,4).

b) Was the natural will of the angels in their love for God completely trustworthy? Metaphysically speaking, there is the same incomparable distance between the will of God and the will of the angels as there is between their intellects. The created will could only be immutably fixed in the Divine Goodness, if that infinite Goodness were actually manifest to the created intellect. This, of course, only takes place in the Beatific Vision, which the good angels received as a reward for their fidelity in their trial.

That fidelity was impossible without the help of grace. To the question, "Who can be saved?", Jesus’ emphatic answer applies equally to the angel: "For man [i.e., for creatures] it is impossible, but not for God" (Mk 10:27). "Angels were from the beginning endowed with grace" (S.Th., I,62,3c.).

Even the angels, inasmuch as they are finite, are marked by ‘defects’ in comparison with the Infinite God; no creature ever reaches the Infinite except by the condescending help of the Infinite. Only aided by grace does the creature become a worthy collaborator of God. This may be the truth hidden behind the repeated observation in Scripture, namely, that the angels are seen "ascending [first] and [then] descending over the Son of man" (Jn 1:51; cf. Gn 28:10,17). The angels must first ascend up to God and ask for His light and His Will before they act, because of themselves they do not know what the particular Will of God is.

Reviewing this from the side of the intellect, St. Thomas explains, that "the will’s natural strictly" directed "towards something corresponding to the nature of the subject willing; therefore to an aim that transcends that nature the will cannot be drawn unless aided by the intervention of some transcendent principle...impelled thereto by a power superior to his nature: which is what we mean by grace" (S.Th., I,62,2c.). "Now it is clear that sanctifying grace is related to the ultimate bliss in a manner similar to the way such seminal patterns in nature are related to their natural outcome; thus St. John calls grace seed (1 Jn 3:9)" (S.Th., I,63,3c.) Accordingly, even the fidelity of the faithful angels has to be attributed to grace.

c) In the third place we have to mention that there are angels who have sinned. With them God "finds [moral] fault". When the seventy-two came back to Jesus and said: "Even the devils submit to us", Jesus confirmed: "I watched Satan fall like lightening from heaven" (Lk 10:18; cf. Rev 12:9, etc.). St. Peter said of these angels: "When angels sinned, God did not spare them: He sent them down into the underworld and consigned them to the dark abyss to be held there until the Judgment" (2 Petr 2:4; cf. CCC 311; 391-395). Here Eliphaz is evidently correct: God "cannot rely...on His own servants, [and] even with His angels He finds fault".

d) Being infinitely less than God, their Creator, the angels cannot know all God’s thoughts and wishes nor can they naturally attain to perfect union with Him. By nature they were prone to misuse their faculties and to sin, so that God really could not trust them absolutely. This being true of the angels, what then is the plight of man and his danger of falling into sin (cf. St. Thomas Aq., In Iob, to chapter 4)!

Man and angels, to be sure, have a natural perfection as creatures. Unaided by grace both are completely incapable of corresponding to the call to holiness and to the union with God Who is infinite! Job was a just man, he too was also capable of committing sin. Therefore his justice was a work of God, fruit of grace. And it is about this which he needs to learn and, in fact, was finally instructed by God (cf. Ch. 38-42). "Apart from Me you can do nothing", affirms Jesus (Jn 15:5). While it is true that we must apply ourselves energetically and contribute by our free decision, it remains true that all is grace, for even these efforts were not possible without grace.

3. In practice we can distinguish two forms of "fault": innocent defects and culpable faults. Innocent defects are to be acknowledged and accepted as natural limits; these should make the creature humble and lead it to adoration of the sovereign majesty of God. Culpable faults should be recognized for what they are, sins; from these one stands in need of conversion through repentance and penance.

Eliphaz was wrong in presuming moral faults to be the unique and absolute cause for any and all suffering, and for trying to prove the universal application of such a principle by referring to the angels without further distinction. And Job came up short of the mark in demanding justification from God, for His ways are incomprehensible and "all is grace", even, in a sense, our very existence! "What have you got that was not given to you?" (1 Cor 4:7) and who can tell us, how we were made (cf. 2 Mac 7:22)? The loss of his health was permitted in order that he learn this.

Here we can learn from the holy angels: They acknowledge their total dependence on God; they renounce any form of self-affirmation by covering their face (the understanding) and their feet (power of motion, hence, volition), and by opening their arms wide totally disposed for the will of God. In this posture they are simply servants before their Lord, "ministering spirits", "warriors who fulfill His commands, attentive to the sound of His words" (Ps 103:20).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

What Eliphaz affirmed can be understood correctly. When we look up to our heavenly brothers and, like them, accept our limits and our constant dependence on grace, then every situation in life becomes an invitation to learn and to grow in humility and holy fear, in a healthy ‘insecurity’ and mistrust of oneself. At the same time, recognizing God’s grace, we are called to grow in gratitude and confidence, in trust and abandonment, to be truly disposed for the holy Will of God, and so to attain to holy union with Him!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC