The Mistakes Of Job’s Friends


The story of Job in the Old Testament is so poignant. It’s hard to read about this godly man who Satan went after in his effort to tear down the worshipers of God. Although I know some think this is controversial, I believe that Satan achieved his goal, but in doing so he opened the door to God reveling Himself more clearly and showing His great mercy, as a foreshadowing of His gift of mercy through Christ. In that respect, Satan failed miserably.

But poor Job! Not only did he lose everything, not only did his kids die and his wife turn against him, not only did his physical health deteriorate horribly so that he had to endure pain and discomfort like he’d never known, but he had a handful of friends who had no understanding of what coming to console the grieving actually should entail.

First, the friends talked. That was their initial mistake. They started well, siting with Job for a long time in utter silence. But when Job verbalized his thoughts, the friends felt the need to correct him. They couldn’t simply let him vent.

What’s more, in speaking, they took it upon themselves to correct Job’s theology. No, Job, they said in their various ways, God would only allow these horrible things to happen to you if you deserved them. You must have done something horrible, or thought something horrible, or perhaps left something good undone. It’s really just your fault that you’re poor now, that all your kids died, and your body is covered with painful sores.

As if this position was not bad enough, there are several places in the text that make me think the friends had some financial stake in the advice they were giving Job. Sacrifice, one said at one point, and God will forgive you. But the way he said it sounds as if somehow the friends would get a share of whatever Job would sacrifice.

Of course telling a man who has lost all his flocks to sacrifice, is a little pointless. Unless they were offering to sell him some of their flock. In chapter 22 one friend says,

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored;
If you remove unrighteousness far from your tent,
And place your gold in the dust,
And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks,

Well, that might be thin, but earlier Job had said

He who informs against friends for a share of the spoil,
The eyes of his children also will languish. (17:5)

Was he accusing them of “informing” on him, of pointing a finger at him and saying he’d done something wrong in order to get a share of whatever of his possessions remained? Perhaps. Again, earlier he said of the friends,

You would even cast lots for the orphans
And barter over your friend. (6:27)

Seems as if they were at least conducting business while he was in his misery—and business without compassion. At one point he tells them what they ought to be doing, which is a great piece of advice for us, too, I think:

For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

The greatest thing a friend can do is point someone who is hurting to God Almighty. But the friends could only tell Job what he must have done wrong or what he had not done right.

On top of this, they misconstrued God’s work in the world. They may have done so because they honestly didn’t know God, didn’t understand His true nature. Basically they told Job it was up to him to manipulate God so that He had to bless Job. This precursor to today’s “health-and-wealthers” ignores God’s sovereignty and mankind’s dependency on His justice and righteousness and mercy.

Job understood that God could do what God wanted to do. The friends painted Him as irrevocably tied to what Man did or did not do. If you do A, they said, God will bless; but if you do B, God will curse.

That’s not altogether wrong. But it’s too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account the bigger picture that includes the spiritual and the eternal. The friends were sort of like people today who can’t see past the here and now, as if this life is all there is, as if what happens physically in this life is all that’s important.

One last thing I think the friends got wrong: when Job lashed out at them (and at God), they got defensive. As I recall, one of the “steps” of grief involves anger. Job does seem angry at times, but who wouldn’t be? A bunch of guys had just robbed him, killed a lot of his servants, and a storm had taken the lives of his children. He himself fell into depression and experienced physical pain because of his health problems. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t have some anger connected with all this.

But the response of the friends seems inexcusable. They kind of gave Job a dose of their own anger.

Scripture says they came to console Job, but they ended up saying things that had to be hurtful. Take for example what one of the friends said about the wicked:

He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned. (18:19)

The whole speech seems pretty pointed, but these lines take on a mean quality when you think about the fact that this guy is talking to someone who had just lost all his children.

No wonder God stepped in. The defensive nature of the friends’ responses to Job was anything but helpful. They weren’t even truthful, though there was an element of truth in what they said. Just enough to make their ideas sound pious. But they lost sight of the fact that comforting someone else wasn’t all about them.

Actually it started with representing God truthfully, and that’s something Job knew, but they did not.

Published in: on January 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Comfort


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught


Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, an hour from the MK school where I taught

Of late I’ve railed against Christians in the West who seem more concerned about comfort and ease than about righteousness and godliness. It’s the I’d-rather-be-happy-than-holy syndrome. But the other day I read a response to 2 Corinthians 1—a chapter that talks a great deal about comfort—and realized that comfort, like so many words, has multiple meanings.

I’ve known about the Biblical kind of comfort that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, gives to believers way back when I was teaching at a missionary children’s boarding school in Guatemala. A few other teachers and I got together for a Bible study, and of all things we chose 2 Corinthians to study.

Right away we had to deal with the subject of comfort, and by extension, the reason we need comfort: suffering. Yep. Comfort that the Holy Spirit gives is the kind of arms-wrapped-around-a-grieving-person kind of empathy. An I’ve-got-you kind of presence. A lean-on-Me whisper to one about to collapse under the weight of anguish or despair or bereavement.

Here’s what Paul said after his intro:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (vv 3-4)

I admit, I was taken aback when I read the first lines of the response penned by a person in our church as part of our “Ears to Hear” read-through of the New Testament:

I guess that when I think of comfort, I first think of “ease and comfort.” This is like the easy life, or “the life of Riley” as people said a while back.

Somehow I’d divorced the word comfort from its dual meanings. It never crossed my mind that the Bible was talking about anything other than the empathetic care and concern God has for us when we are going through hardship. And as the next verses show, Paul was particularly thinking of the hardship Christians experienced because of their faith in Christ.

So, could the word refer to the ease and comfort notion, especially that which a group of professing Christians hold to be ours for the claiming? Was Paul saying that God greases the wheels for those dealing with affliction so that they’ll quickly move to a place of comfort and ease? That they’ll be relieved of their troubles and will soon embrace health, wealth, and happiness?

I think that’s a perverse interpretation. It cheapens what God actually promises. The original word which we translate as comfort is parakaleō, and it’s first meaning is “to call to one’s side, call for, summon.” Clearly, the promise God is giving to those suffering is His presence. It also means “to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort.” God’s promise, then, is that He will build up the suffering saint in the inner being.

This understanding fits particularly with Paul’s autobiographical illustration, when he and those with him were so hard pressed by the opposition that they “despaired even of life” (v 8b). They were either so overwhelmed they felt like giving up or they saw no way to escape those who were trying to kill them. Either way, Paul needed comfort.

The other thing that caught my attention in these verses about comfort is that God wants us to turn around and give to others what He gave to us. I’ve seen this principle at work often, and it is beautiful. Perhaps the first time I experienced it was when my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He hadn’t been in the hospital a day in his life, and suddenly he was gone.

Needless to say, I was in need of comfort. One of my neighbors, who I knew only in passing, took the time to put his arm around me and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad in the same way when I was young. Suddenly I was not alone. I could grieve with someone who understood, and it was . . . a great comfort.

Since then, I’ve been able to put my arm around others and say, I know what you’re going through. I lost my dad suddenly, too.

In God’s economy, He gives us comfort, not for us to hoard, but to share. We generously receive from His hand that we may in turn give to others in their time of need. This kind of comfort, by the way, is not the lie so many give: It’s OK.

It’s not OK that you lost a loved one. Death is the enemy, a result of sin, a foe that needed a Victorious Warrior to defeat it. It’s not OK that you’re suffering for your faith. That’s sin and Satan working to cover your light, to make your salt useless. It’s not OK that you lost your job or that your spouse cheated on you or that your son is on drugs. The sin of this world that affects us personally is not OK. It’s NOT! So why do people trying to bring comfort say that it is?

When we admit that the suffering we’re experiencing is wrong and that it hurts and that it changes all of life, then we can accept the comfort God offers for us. When we’re at a helpless state, God sends the Helper.

He won’t lie to us and tell us it’s OK. He will say, I’ll be with you when the waters overflow, I’ll never leave you or forsake you, I’ll walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. And that’s the kind of comfort a sufferer needs.

Published in: on July 6, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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