Early in my marriage, when I shared fears, frustrations, or anger, my husband immediately offered ways to fix the situation. While he acted out of love, his response failed to provide what I needed. What’s more, his words tended to irritate me or shut me down. While there were times when I wanted to hear potential solutions, more often than not, what I needed most was space to vent and feel heard. I needed to know my husband was with me.
When those I care about experience pain, I often think of how Job’s friends responded to him in his tragedy, both what they initially did well, but then also where they caused pain.
Scripture says “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11).
It appears these men took immediate action. They didn’t simply send Job a message or offer a prayer on Job’s behalf. They discussed the issue with one another, realized their friend needed them, and bridged the gap between them and Job.
The Bible doesn’t tell us where they lived, but the wording suggests they traveled some distance. They were willing to be inconvenienced and to sacrifice their time and agenda to simply be present. And notice their initial motives. Scripture says they went in order to “sympathize with him” and “comfort him.” This could also be translated as to “mourn” or “grieve” with him.
At first, that’s precisely what they did. Verse 13 tells us “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
They remained silent at Job’s side for a full week. That took significant patience, and I’m certain their behavior brought Job great comfort.
Many times, when we’re hurting, that’s precisely what we need. Our most painful and frightening circumstances become more bearable when we know that we aren’t alone.
But then, their behavior changed. Perhaps they lost their patience or maybe their hearts simply couldn’t take their friend’s grief any more, and they began offering solutions. They said, in essence, “Hope in God and seek help from Him.” They then proceeded to give their “wisdom” on the situation. They made hurtful and theologically false accusations in assuming all suffering was the result of sin. They also began to “lecture” Job regarding the nature of God and man and how they felt those truths impacted the situation. As a result, those words likely only inflicted further pain, making Job feel alone in the company of friends. Sometimes that hurts worse than if our friends and loved ones had never come.
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