“So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Busite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God…” – Job 32:1-22
They call it l’esprit de l’escalier. It’s French for “the spirit of the stairs,” or more to the point, “the stair wit.” It’s the perfect retort that comes to you too late—when you’re on the stairs leaving the party. My brain tends to take a little longer to warm up, and so I have l’esprit de la salle de bain, the spirit of the bathroom. My esprit usually kicks in the next morning, standing at the bathroom sink. And when it does, watch out. My tongue is as sharp as the Mach 3 in my hand, my wit as bubbly as the toothpaste that rimes my lips as I declaim.
Telemarketers weep openly and change their ways. Rude people examine their motives. The girl who said that thing to me in sixth grade calls up to apologize. Siblings admit I’m right. People everywhere are so stunned by my verbal hammerstrokes that they do not even notice the dental floss between my teeth. I am victorious. I am…
…Job. Few people in the Bible are more eloquent or, frankly, more right in what they’re saying. But here’s what Elihu points out: all Job’s powerful speeches? Every one of them is about him. Every one of them is designed to justify himself, to prove himself to the people around him. Not one of them is spoken to justify God.
Job actually has a good excuse for that, but I do not. So I wonder: what if I spent less time devising brilliant speeches that show the world how awesome and clever I am, and more time devising speeches that show the world how awesome and clever God is? What if I thought of fewer things to say to cut jerky people to the quick, and more things to say that would show them God?
It’s a tall order, but I’m going to try to do it. Because as Elihu knows, if all you’re doing is justifying yourself and not God, no matter how witty you are, you’re just spitting toothpaste at the mirror.
Holy God, protect me from l’esprit de l’escalier. Send your Holy Spirit instead, and fill me up with words to turn the world to you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.