Friday, July 9, 2010

How NOT to comfort your suffering friend! Thoughts on Job- part I

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The book of Job is hard for me to understand. I've never studied it and last spring while reading through Job as part of the 90 day Bible challenge I struggled to make much sense of it. I got the whole sovereignty of God thing, but that's about all I got.  The reason the book of Job is so hard for me is that his friends say many things that are true and Job does complain a lot. In other words, I have a hard time clearly seeing where Job's friends go wrong and Job goes right. None of them are a paragon of virtue, they all show their humanity. And at times it seems as if they're saying the same things to one another.  So... this time as I read through Job I determined to pay closer attention and take notes. I know I may be a little late in coming to this, but I think I have a better handle now on what Job got right and his friends got wrong. I'll break my observations into two posts and focus today on what I think are five places Job's friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) go wrong in their handling of Job's suffering.

Five errors of Job's friends:

1. They assume that Job's suffering is discipline from God, that it is a result of unconfessed sin. This may seem perfectly obvious to you, but the tricky part is that sometimes God does discipline his children in order to correct them. (Hebrews 12:5-12) The thing is, we don't know the mind of God and neither do Job's friends. They just assume that Job's calamity is correction from God and they get progressively more aggressive in their accusations.

“But consider the joy of those corrected by God! Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin.” (5:17)

“Is it because you are so pious that He accuses you and brings judgement against you?  No, it's because of your wickedness!  There's no limit to your sins."  (22:4-5  Eliphaz goes on to give hypothetical sins that Job may have committed to bring this judgement from God.)

Of course we have the benefit of knowing what took place in heaven that brought on Job’s testing. We know it wasn’t Job’s sin, but an opportunity for God to show His glory. Job’s friends were wrong. What’s worse, they based their assumption not on the Word of God, but on personal experience.

My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” (4:7, emphasis mine)

“If you listen, I will show you. I will answer you from my own experience.” (15:17, emphasis mine)

I think we can learn a couple of things from this first mistake of Job's friends. For starters, we have to humbly acknowledge that we do not EVER know the whole story. It is so tempting for us to judge based only on what we have experienced or what we think we know. And while there is a time and place for judging believers in sin (Mathew 18, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 among others) we should do so only when their unrepentant sin is apparent, not suspected or presumed.

2. Job’s friends assume that Job hasn't already been praying about his tragic circumstances and if he would only get right with God and pray, God would fix his life. This is related to their first mistake, but slightly different. Here, they are not only wrong about Job (assuming his sins have brought about his suffering), but also about God. They grossly underestimate the God of the Universe and His purposes. They reduce God to an angry Genie in the sky that must be appeased and once He’s appeased then He’s compelled to answer our every beck and call. They make God into a vending machine- as long as you put the right stuff in (confession, submission, obedience), you get the right stuff out (a peaceful, blessed life devoid of suffering).

“If I were you, I would go to God and present my case to Him.” (5:8)

"But if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity, He will surely rise up and restore your happy home."  (8:5)

“Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you. Listen to His instructions, and store them in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored- so clean up your life.” (22:21-23)

God condemns Job’s friends later by saying twice that they had not spoken accurately about Him. (42:7 and 42:8) Job’s friends said many things about God that are true, but they missed the big picture of God’s glory. They saw only a formulaic view of how to get God to move on their behalf. They did not have an accurate view of God and therefore their advice to Job was not only unhelpful, but sinful. Sadly, there are many today who still hold this inaccurate view of God. 

Where did Job's friends go wrong?  Job's friends got it backwards.  They were thinking somehow that God exists for us instead of the other way around.  They were not privy to the reason behind Job's testing.  They didn't know that it was all about God getting the glory when one righteous man proved faithful in the midst of unbearable circumstances.   There was much praising of God and rejoicing in heaven over the fact that Job endured his suffering and didn't curse God.  Job's friends were not only wrong about Job, they were wrong about God.

3. Job’s friends are critical in spirit instead of compassionate and encouraging. Even if Job’s friends had been right about Job, they approached him with a critical heart and lack of compassion. They were cold. Though they formally mourned with him in outward ritual tearing their robes and placing dust on their heads, their words show that their hearts did not match their outward display. Their advice reads more like theological discourse than heartfelt encouragement. Even if they had been right, they would have been wrong.

“How long will you go on like this? You sound like a blustering wind.” (8:2, Bildad in response to Job’s complaints and depression)

“God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve.” (11:6b) Again, even if his friends knew Job was being punished for his sins, which they don’t, they’re cold instead of loving in their words to Job.

Job was not fooled by the outward mourning of his friends- he recognized their harsh words as the mocking and critical insults they were. (12:5, 16:4) And we won’t fool our friends either with our "take it from me's" in their times of distress.  Job would have preferred some kind words and a prayer to their "comfort" as is evidenced by the following verses.

"I have heard all this before.  What miserable comforters you are!  Won't you ever stop blowing hot air?  What makes you keep on talking?  I could say the same things if you were in my place.  I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you.  But if it were me, I would encourage you.  I would try to take away your grief."  (16:1-5)

4. Job's friends falsely infer from his complaints and depression that Job has forgotten God. They accuse him of behaving like the godless who have no hope.

"The same happens to all who forget God.  The hopes of the godless evaporate."  (8:13)

"Is God's comfort too little for you?  Is His gentle word not enough?  What has taken away your reason?  What has taken away your vision, that you turn against God and say all these evil things?" (15:11-13)

This is tempting, isn’t it? To think in our hearts that Christians who are depressed about their circumstances are being short-sighted and not remembering their hope in the Lord. Having an eternal perspective certainly does help our attitude, but God made us to have emotions and even the sinless Christ displayed emotional anguish during His time of suffering.

5. They are self-righteous. This really explains why Job’s friends make the other mistakes they do in assessing Job’s situation and handing out advice. Here's their faulty logic:  God always rewards the righteous now and God always punishes the wicked now; therefore since Job is suffering and they aren’t, they assume that they are more righteous than he. This in turn explains their lack of compassion for Job and why they are so critical of him. Job exposes their self-righteousness for what it is, false.

"Teach me, and I will keep quiet.  Show me what I have done wrong.  Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to?  Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my cry of desperation?  You would even send an orphan into slavery or sell a friend."  (6:24-27)

"These men claim that night is day; they claim that the darkness is light."  (17:12)

"Even if I have sinned, that is my concern, not yours.  You think you're better than I am, using my humiliation as evidence of my sin."  (19:4-5)

We must be careful not to fall into the same trap as Job's friends.  If we follow the same faulty reasoning, we'll end up self-righteous, as well.  We must remember that it is only by God's grace that He blesses us and by His mercy that He witholds the punishment we deserve.  And of course the main error in their logic is the now part.  God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked, but He will do so on His own timetable.

Job wasn't without fault either.  He complained.  He asked why.  He gave up on the life God had for him and wanted to die.  He never blamed or cursed God, but He doubted God's lovingkindess.  And God accused him of being prideful.  But... in the end, God's anger is directed at Job's friends, not at Job.

"My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has."  (42:7- spoken by God to Eliphaz)

So Job is exonerated and Job's friends are condemned.  It's a great comfort to me that even though Job was human and reacted to his suffering with complaining and depression, that God exonerates him in the end in front of his friends.  Job is called the servant of God.  So next time I want to look at what Job did right in the midst of his suffering.

1 comment:

  1. Such a good post. Thank you for it. I have several friends who are suffering right now and I am learning how to be a good, faithful friend. This was helpful.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.