If you missed the last edition of the humble ramblings allow me to bring you up to date. One of Job’s buddies gave us a seminar on how not to treat a friend going through a difficult season. Today we have another lesson. Our first guest is Zophar from Naamath. And, waiting backstage to confront his friends is the star of the book, Job himself.
Let’s welcome Zophar from Naamath:
Job, do you think you can carry on like this and we’ll say nothing?
(Pretty sure Job was thinking that ain’t likely to happen).
That we’ll let you rail and mock and not step in? You claim, “My doctrine is sound and my conduct impeccable.’ How I wish God would give you a piece of his mind, tell you what’s what! I wish he’d show you how wisdom looks from the inside, for true wisdom is mostly “inside.’ But you can be sure of this, you haven’t gotten half of what you deserve. (Job 11:3-6, MsgB)
Application: Can you imagine what Job must have thought with this line of thought? He had lost everything including his health. What more could possibly go wrong? Death, as Job repeatedly noted, would be blessed relief from his plight. Leave the judgment robes at home when you speak to those who are going through trials. The goal of a good friend is to engage, listen, comfort and restore. It is worth noting that the first round of “help” from his friends generated this cynical response from Job.
“I’m sure you speak for all the experts, and when you die there’ll be no one left to tell us how to live.
Haven’t you been there? Listening in disbelief and even anger to the person who has it all figured out. Observation from your resident Bad Christian: About 90 % of the time these armchair experts have not experienced anything resembling what you are going through. I must make a note to thank Job someday for bringing into scripture the ministry of sarcasm. But I digress. Back to his comments.
But don’t forget that I also have a brain-I don’t intend to play second fiddle to you. It doesn’t take an expert to know these things. “I’m ridiculed by my friends: ‘So that’s the man who had conversations with God!’ Ridiculed without mercy: ‘Look at the man who never did wrong!’ It’s easy for the well-to-do to point their fingers in blame, for the well-fixed to pour scorn on the strugglers. (Job 12:2-5, The Message)
Application from Job. There is much to learn about approaching those who are hurting from Job’s words. His friend’s judgments and neatly wrapped solutions only added to his hurt. It is indeed easy to offer reasons when someone else is going through hurt and difficulties. I pray that we will show grace to the wounded. First, because they need it but more selfishly because we soon may need that very grace returned.
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. (Galations 6, The Message)
Job has more to offer about the ineffectiveness of his friends.
“I’ve had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! (Job 16:2, The Message)
Application: It would seem rather obvious that Job was looking for comfort and not theological insight and debate from his friends. He had already decided to hold steadfast to God. He just needed his friends to come along side and walk with him through difficult times. It is an interesting twist because Scripture records that the original mission for his friends was to do exactly what Job needed from them.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2, NIV)
How could such a noble mission veer so far off target? The Church Lady would say, “Could it be?” (echo) “Satan?” I don’t mean to completely throw Job’s friends under the Ox Cart. I am sure their heart’s desire was to help Job. This story is in God’s Word for a reason. This is an important lesson for those of us who are hurt or offended by friends. Job’s friends sacrificially left their homes and traveled to be helpful and comforting. They just blew it. And sometimes you and I do as well.
In addition to the less than helpful input from his pals, Job had a memorable and uncomfortable exchange with the lovely Mrs. Job.
His wife said, “Still holding on to your precious integrity, are you? Curse God and be done with it!” He told her, “You’re talking like an empty-headed fool. We take the good days from God-why not also the bad days?” Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God. (Job 2:9-10, The Message)
I am pretty sure that I would have addressed Joni a bit differently. Uhhh…make that I am positive I would have addressed that differently. Job’s insights to his wife are valuable. His technique of communication might have later led to counseling or an appearance on the Rabbi Phil Show. Nonetheless, through all of his trials he did not turn on God although (and this is important) he was extremely candid with God in his conversations. I think that we fear being honest with Him as if God doesn’t already know our feelings. Jesus Himself questioned what He was about to endure in His gut wrenching prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. But He finished by saying, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Another role of a good friend is to encourage that honest, gut-level communication with God. That can be a key to beginning the healing process. One of the things that I have found out through my writing is how valuable it is to write and see your feelings and frustrations on paper. If you thought When Bad Christians Happen to Good People was a bit edgy you should have seen the first draft! Some of the feelings that poured out as I wrote were anything but edifying and exposed emotions and issues that I needed to address with God and not some innocent person accidentally buying my book. It was quite helpful (and a bit unsettling) to see those things on paper. It was instrumental in allowing me to deal with them.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit may direct you to speak hard truth. But make sure it is surrounded with grace and affirmation. And make sure you understand as much as you can about what your friend is going through. And don’t say you understand if have not been through something very similar. You don’t.
Often after you provide the ministry of listening a wounded friend will give you permission to offer insights. But Job’s friends did what is so easy for any of us to do. Offer solutions instead of protective love and support. All of us have done that at one time or another. I am grateful for the lessons from Job and from his friends. I just pray that I can learn them.