Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Friends of Job

In the story of Job, we meet three of Job's friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. These friends, much like Job's wife, are often spoken of disparagingly by those who are trying to give a brief summary of the tale. But a closer look will reveal his friends to be friends indeed and, more importantly, very much like we are ourselves. One of the reasons the story of Job has such universal appeal and lasting quality is because it reveals so much about true human nature, if we will but look close enough to see it.

In the story, Job's friends hear about the disasters that have befallen Job. They meet together and purpose to visit him to console him in his troubles. When they see him from a distance, they are so overcome by his condition that they weep openly. Then they sit with him in his ash heap and do not speak a word for seven days and nights.

This is the first point to consider. How many friends can you name that would be willing to sit with you in your troubles and not speak for a week? How many friends do you have that YOU would be willing to visit in THEIR troubles and YOU not speak for a week?

There is a cultural consideration in this part of the ancient world that is not present in our modern world, of course. It was customary during mourning that visitors would not speak until the host spoke first. So by not speaking, Job's friends were honoring Job's and their cultural heritage. The fact is that his three friends put their normal life on hold so they could honor and comfort a friend. They sat silently for a week, waiting for him to speak.

When Job finally did speak, in summary his words were, "I would be better off dead; I wish I had never been born." This is not exactly what the friends were expecting to hear. Eliphaz responded first by politely asking "Would you mind if I were to speak a few words to you?" Eliphaz then began trying to comfort Job with his words, by reminding him of God's goodness. Job responds to Eliphaz; Zophar and Bildad give their takes on the situation and Job responds to them, and their back and forth discourse goes on for the major part of the story.

What unfolds during this time is what probably happens in almost every human interaction of its kind. What began as an effort to comfort and console turns into an attempt at "fixing" the situation. Instead of consolation, they offer what they see as the solution. What began as conversation soon turns into debate and then argument. Being right becomes more important than being friends; information becomes more important than relationship.

So how can we rise to the positive aspects of Job's Friends without declining into the negative? I believe there are several things we should consider:

1. Realize that you do not have the whole story; you do not know all the facts. In any person's life, there are myriad factors which you are simply unable to ascertain. Discernment here means not thinking you know what's going on.

2. The simple presence of a friend is a comfort in troubling times. Your gift to them is your time and "just being there". Words are almost never what they need, especially if those words are designed to provide a solution to their problems. If you begin to feel the need to speak words of wisdom, find an errand you can run for them instead. That is something that will help.

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