Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Job 2:11-13 (ESV)
In the immortal words of that famous Honeymooner, Ralph Kramden,”I got a Biiiiiiiig Mouth!”
I am without a doubt, the picture of Job’s friends. At times, I am too quick with an answer to someone’s woes. I want to fix them and then pat myself on my back for a job well done. Job’s friends certainly don’t start off that way, but it only takes them a week of doing what’s right, before they offer up to Job all the reasons for why things have fallen apart for him. We don’t like to see ourselves as Job’s friends, but I think it’s more accurate then looking at ourselves as somehow emulating Job, this great pillar of faith. I mean, we also like to think of ourselves as David slaying Giants, instead of the Israelites cowering in the back.
Today, many of us don’t even wait ten seconds before offering up some word of wisdom. I’ve been in this position, so I have an idea of what I’m speaking of. In fact, I’ve been on both sides of this position. I’ve been (sort of) a mentor for people here and there in the past. If I could meet myself back then, and hear some of the verbal sewage coming from my mouth, boy, would I slap some krazy glue on those flapping gums. Coming from charismatic circles, most people wanted a wise word of knowledge to propel them in their faith. Heck, I was in it! I looked for it too! Of course I was going to toss in “my two cents.” I was getting these “downloads” plopped in my spirit, I was supposed to share them, right? (insert groan here). I have also sat there as people gave me one piece of advice after another in how to fix everything. To be honest, It all amounted to law on top of law, and made me feel more guilty, stained and unforgiveable then when I began. I’ve learned that in the middle of someone’s most difficult times, unless your words are, “Hey! Me too!”, it’s just so much selfish pride to think you’re going to have that one word (from God) that flips someone’s script, and make everything wonderful. Again, I’ve been there, I’ve done it. I’ve tried to fix people. Maybe, I was looking for validation that I was “in God” by fixing this person. I could say “See, he’s better! That’s what God wanted me to do!” It really is crap! It’s amazing I don’t still carry a stench with me. (sniff… sniff…)
I can remember taking a walk with a friend when I first started to see what a busybody problem-solver I was. I wanted so badly to have him open up. I had a sense of what may have been going on at the time, and I’m sure I was ready with the right (or at least some kind of) Christian answer for him. I said something to the effect of, “I know what a pain in the butt I am. I just want you to know I’m here for you.” He replied with a quick, “you’re right, you are a pain in the butt.” We had a good laugh and chatted a bit, nothing too deep, but it was a good, and healthy conversation. I started to see how important it was to me (and others in christian circles), to “get people right.” Do we want to see people get better? sure! But for many its about adding worth to ourselves by making a list of our accomplishments before God. I had a different friend, a church elder, get mad at me because I took him to task for a false story that he thought was real, and that he emailed to people as an encouragement. Though I personally could’ve handled it immensely better, I stand by the idea that we should be more discerning, especially if another person relates this story as true to someone who knows better. The friend told me that someone was encouraged by it, so that’s all that matters. He felt validated and vindicated by the results because in certain christian circles, results are all that matter. I love this brother, and always wish the best for him, but we will probably always disagree on that issue.
Over the years, I came to understand that this good friend, who knew I was a pain in the butt, was one of those people it seemed that everyone at church wanted to fix with the right godly advice. I was probably at the top of that list. I am more thankful for his friendship now then ever before, because it’s no longer me trying fix him, just a couple of broken people trying trust God a little everyday, whether in our good moments, or our horrendous ones. During another walk, I did ask him how he had been doing. He was fairly reluctant to talk. (but now, I understood why) I remember telling him (again, an approximation), “you know, I really just want to know how you’re doing. I’m not interested in fixing you.” Yes, my lips were still flapping. But it wasn’t spewing out, “a 101 ways to fix everything.” I asked because we don’t see each other often, and I am genuinely concerned for him as my friend. I do want to mourn with him, and laugh with him, and cry with him, and pray with him/for him, and if he needs is, even be silent with him. I just didn’t have the luxury that Job’s friends had. They heard about his pain and suffering. It was public and seemed to be broadcast across the land. My friend and I don’t always run in the same daily circles, so if something’s up, I hear it straight from him, and that’s ok.
The point of these illustrations, is that sometimes we are actually worse than Job’s friends, we don’t even take the time to just be present. We want to fix someone, or at least let him know all the reasons we think things are falling apart, and we do it more for our own validation of knowledge and understanding, then to truly be a help and a friend. Job’s friends were wrong, and they were rebuked for it. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that some of our best advice to others will turn out to be nothing more than wood, hay and stubble, as God casts it out as so much worthless nonsense. What remains will always be, what did you do with Jesus, NOT what did you do for him? Personally, I’ll be thankful for his forgiveness AND his forgetfulness in that moment. I’ve probably got storehouses full of that stuff. I’d be lucky to have one word left on this blog. My dear friend was tired of being inundated with instructions for victory, and rules for God’s favor. He needed something else.
My friend needed/still needs/always needs, the best of Job’s friends. He needed the ones that simply come to be a comforting, sympathetic presence. He needed the ones that will just weep with him in moments of weariness and despair. He needed the ones that come and sit in silence across table or in a theater. To be honest, in our own most desperate hours, we all need these kinds of people around us. Ones who will just simply be around us. We should take care to rein in our desires to fix them in that moment.
Christ is that better friend. He comes and suffers with us and takes our suffering. He has wept over us, and dried every tear. He is sympathetic in that he made himself like us, to acquaint himself with our pains, and then bore them all perfectly so he could replace our own desperation with a life of no condemnation that he lived to give us. He is that silent friend who doesn’t need to speak a word, and he stays with us forever. He says weep as long as you have too. Tear your clothes, scratch at your skin, I’m not leaving. I’m not going to tell you why things are falling apart. Most people darkened by pain and suffering, already know enough about judgment in that moment. When he does speak, Christ will remind you that he paid for every one of your, “why’s” and “how come’s.”
We may all want to strive to be the man Job is. With his world crumbling down around him, his faith remained. In reality, we are more like the friends after the first 7 days. We are quick to tell people what’s wrong and how to fix it. We are eager to find the right way to tell people to pick yourself by your bootstraps so it sounds like God is saying it. If you are looking for some instruction and application in these verses, then be like Job’s friends before they opened their traps. Then consider Christ and how he does all of those things perfectly for us, and he does them forever.