When finishing the fourth grade, Jimmy realized that he really liked arithmetic.  In junior high, math intrigued him.  Solving algebraic equations was a joyous delight.  His world opened when he learned that both 9 x 9 and -9 x -9 both equaled 81 and the square root of 49 could be either 7 or -7.  In other words a question could have more than just one right answer!!!  Jimmy also learned, when doing mathematical problems, that at some moments in the process of solving a problem three different descriptors could be accurate – right, wrong, incomplete.

Later in life, when Biblical, theological, and philosophical study all were very important to Jimmy, he realized that those three descriptors (right, wrong, incomplete) went beyond his mathematical investigations.  He had been reading the story of Job in the Old Testament, and toward the end of the story, he asked himself if Job’s friends were wrong, right, or incomplete.  In fact, maybe they were even something else (although he didn’t know what that “else” would be).  On one hand, they made some solid statements about life, about God, and even about Job.  On the other hand, they also showed signs of being too categorical and / or simplistic.

Jimmy’s pondering went beyond Job’s friends, to Job himself.  Was not Job also right in some of his statements and wrong in others, just as was the case with his consoling friends?  Did Job also show signs of being too categorical and / or simplistic?

Jimmy realized that he had to cut some slack with both with Job and his three friends, who were dealing with pain and evil in the world.  All four of the guys were processing a very existentially thorny issue.  The case was complicated.  There were too many motives, consequences, conditions and situations combining in a variety of ways that made “simple” answers of right and wrong inadequate.  All four of them were proposing incomplete answers, even if they didn’t realize it.  And today?  Do we also need to give ample room to the “incomplete” answer, the answer that points to our being in the process toward the right answer?  Permit me to illustrate it.

“The Lord gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”, so said the husband of three months when his wife suddenly died.  Was he right or wrong to quote this refrain?  Or was he incomplete?  We may not be able to judge conclusively, but it would make sense to quote this text if the husband knew several things – – –

  • that God had given three months of marriage to people who did not deserve it, and who did not ultimately own it.
  • that it was a gift to be enjoyed for whatever time God intended it to last.
  • that God is not obligated to anyone or to anything.  If he were obligated to the gift receiver, what He gives wouldn’t be a “gift.”

If the husband did not know these several things, his quote was probably an expression of incompleteness, which is not right or wrong.  BUT, in his incompleteness, he was trusting the Lord’s goodness.