My last blog discussed the beginning two chapters of Job and briefly went over what they had to say about why God might allow our suffering to occur. This is a topic I will cover in more depth at a later time. For now, though, I would like to move on to the middle part of Job, which also happens to be the majority of the book – 34 chapters in all. This portion of Scripture tells us a lot about how we might handle our suffering and what God’s purpose in it all could be, but I want to specifically focus on Job’s friends and see what they can teach us about being a true friend in times of suffering. I don’t know about you, but this is definitely an art that I need to master. I’m pretty terrible at being a comforting friend.
So in chapter 2, Job’s three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – heard about Job’s suffering and went to him to comfort him. The text says that at seeing him from a distance, they tore their robes and wept aloud. Obviously, Job looked pretty pathetic even from a distance. Going to him, they sat with him in silence for 7 days. Then Job spoke up and cursed the day he was born, asking God to just end his misery.
Job’s friends saw his great misery and did what good friends do; they eagerly sought to bring an end to Job’s pain. But they went about doing this in the wrong way.
To avoid sounding somewhat redundant, I will simply summarize the next 25 chapters. Basically, Job’s friends started telling him that he must have done something wrong (4:7, 8:3, 8:20, 11:14, 18:21, 20:29 to name a few references) and that he should repent of his sin (5:17, 11:13-15, 22:21), appealing to their own knowledge and wisdom. Job rebukes them for being terrible friends by causing him increased suffering and anguish (6:15, 6:21, 9:30-31, 13:4, 16:2, 17:4), and he simultaneously claims that he is innocent, calling on God to come to him so he can make his case before Him (6:9-10, 6:28-29, 9:21, 10:2-22, 17:25, 27:2-5). Throughout all of this, Job’s most recurrent complaint to God was that the righteous continue to suffer while the wicked live in comfort. Job lays this righteous complaint out in depth in chapter 24.
Obviously, Job’s friends didn’t like being called “useless”, and Job didn’t like being called “wicked”. So a poetic argument between the four broke out over the following 22 chapters – one in which Job’s friends rapidly lost ground.
As is with all arguments, the person who can stay cool-headed the longest wins the argument. This person is normally also the one who holds the more righteous ground…or they are simply the only female in the argument. Therefore, as Job’s three friends slowly became angrier, they found themselves struggling to bring any new arguments against the declarations of righteousness Job was making. Toward the end, they could only make a few wild accusations as they continued to repeat their previous arguments. Finally, their last statement in chapter 25 was no longer an argument against Job, but more of an appeal to their own knowledge of God. At this point, Job basically calls them stupid and unoriginal and they shut up.
Now before I continue, I want to point out that Job’s pronouncement of righteousness was not to say that he never sinned. It was to say that he followed God’s law for his sanctification through sacrifices (something we read about in chapter 1). In fact Job even declares he is a sinner, specifically in 7:20-21, but also in other places throughout the book.
In the end, God actually declares that these three friends had sinned against Him by speaking falsely about Him. He demanded that the friends pray to Him and allow Job to make sacrifices and offer prayer on their behalf in order to gain forgiveness. They do so and are forgiven, but this begs the question: “What did these three men do so wrong?”
This answer can be found in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 32. Elihu is about to speak and the narrator of Job is giving a little background into why Elihu says what he does.
“[Elihu] became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also very angry with the three friends because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. (footnote: Job, and so had condemned God)”
Therefore, we see here that Job was doing wrong (something we’ll get to later), but the three friends also made a mistake. By telling Job that God was punishing him for something that he had done instead of telling Job that God has good reason for doing all the things He does, the three men sinned against God. They had spoken falsely about Him when they should have “justified” Him.
Now I think we should try to take a lesson or two away from the mistakes made by these three men. I mean, it’s better to learn from the mistakes of others, am I right?
Lesson 1 – Comforting
First, Job’s friends were not very good comforters. One of the things we sometimes fail to realize about people in mourning is that offering advice to them is normally not the best way to go about things.
Paul realized this when he wrote to the Romans in Romans 12 “mourn with those who mourn.” He doesn’t tell the Romans to offer advice to those who mourn. He says to mourn right along with them.
Jesus, too, talked about this in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus doesn’t say that those who mourn will be offered advice. He doesn’t say that they will have their problems fixed. He says they will be comforted.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I am going through an especially hard time, I have no desire to hear instruction and advice from friends. So why is it that I try to give instruction and advice when my friends are going through the same pain? It’s natural human instinct – especially for men, I think. We aren’t as good at sympathizing – we prefer to fix the problem. There’s nothing wrong with this; but there is a time and a place for fixing problems, and when your brother is struggling with pain and suffering, that is not the time to fix anything. That is the time to mourn right along with him.
Of course, if done in a godly way, this sympathizing can only happen to a certain extent. Elihu realized that it was okay to mourn with Job, but when Job began justifying himself to God, Elihu had to rebuke him (34:29). In the same way, we can be fellow mourners while also helping our friends in need remain in the right mindset. We don’t want to become a further curse on them by increasing their misery, but we also don’t want to allow them to creep into enemy territory without quite realizing what they are doing.
Lesson 2 – Theology
The second lesson we can take from these friends is a lesson in theology. You see, Job’s three friends had a theology that God rewards good and punishes evil by allowing the good to flourish and cutting the wicked off (a theology that was quickly proven to be false). And they were so consumed by this theology that they failed to even consider the idea of Job’s righteousness. This led them to be poor friends to Job, increasing his misery. And in the end, they were forced to repent for their actions, because their theology had so blinded them to the truth that it caused them to sin against God.
This was the most important thing that I learned from the mistakes of the three friends, and it has caused me to maintain a state of introspection ever since. I can’t help but wonder what theologies I may have which are false. I know there have to be some, if not many. It’s impossible for man to fully understand God, so how could I have all of my theologies right? But I also wonder, “Do I have any convictions in my theology that so consume me – ones which I hold on to so strongly – that I am unable to see the truth? And what might these blinding convictions be?”
Do you have any theologies and conviction which, though possibly unfounded, you hold onto so tightly that you cannot see the truth right in front of you? It’s not an easy question to answer, but it is something we must consider.
Well, that is all I have for today. Think about these things and think about any other questions you have about Job. And if you’re wondering what the heck Job did wrong, that is only natural. I will try my best to explain that one in my next blog – a lesson in God’s answering.
Let me know what questions you might have and if I have said anything so far that you disagree with! Like I said, I definitely don’t have all of my theologies straight, so ask questions – that way we can both learn.
I pray that you are all being blessed through good times and bad.