This past week my Bible reading plan found me in the book of Job. Usually I’m struck as I read it with the story of man who followed God with a whole heart, but endured great testing. He lost his fortune and his family all in one day. Then Satan came after his health saying that Job only served God because of his blessings.
Job certainly proved the enemy wrong when he said to his wife, “should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (2:10) She had counseled him to, “curse God and die.” Job also said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away, Praise the name of the Lord!” (1:21)
However, Job began to grow weary with his trials. His initial response was acceptance and praise, but eventually his suffering led him to a time of great discouragement. As his friends arrive on the scene, we would assume that they are going to encourage and help him. At first it seems that way. It even says they “traveled from their homes to comfort and console him.” (2:11) Their intent was good. I find when a friend is struggling, my intent is to help. Job’s friends didn’t come offering quick fixes or doctrinal dialogues at first. They sat with him for seven days and nights, “and no one said a word, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.” (2:13)
I believe they genuinely cared for their friend and showed faithfulness to him by sitting with him for so long. The problem comes as they open their mouths. Job breaks the silence first explaining how low and dark he feels. He has more questions than answers and ends his monologue by saying, “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come to be. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; instead, only trouble comes.” (3:25-26)
His friends then make the first of many mistakes. The first friend, Eliphaz, responds to Job’s heartbreak by accusing him of somehow sinning and bringing this pain on himself. He wasn’t present when Job’s life took a terrible turn. He has only heard from others how it came to be. Even Job didn’t know at that time that Satan had come to God asking to test him. Though the intent of the friend was to help, Eliphaz only made Job’s pain worse.
Job says this, “One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you have accused me without the slightest fear of the Almighty. My brother, you have proved as unreliable as a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring when it is swollen with ice and melting snow. But when the hot weather arrives, the water disappears. The brook vanishes in the heat.” (6:14-17)
Though they didn’t intend the deepen Job’s pain, his friend’s response was fair-weather. When things got really tough, they assumed his guilt. (6:29) As women, I think we can learn a great lesson from Job’s friends. These are the principles that stand out to me:
- Though we may start with a good intent, we can unintentionally make things worse in our efforts to comfort a friend.
- Some friends are great when everything is going well, but when the heat gets too intense and the road gets rough, they vanish.
- We must stop assuming the guilt of others. We need to be careful not to play detective and draw conclusions from our limited information or perception that we can discern what is really going on in a friends heart and life.
I have been guilty of making these mistakes. I have also been on the receiving end of others making assumptions without knowing all the information. Job’s friends continued to self-righteously discourage him with assumptions of guilt. Even when Job clearly stated his heart and struggles, his friends wouldn’t listen to his words and decided that because he was suffering he must be sinning. They believed their perception of the circumstances over the very words spoken by their friend.
The bulk of the book of Job contains the dialogue of Job and his friends. Finally, the Lord comes and speaks to Job. He also has some words for Job’s friends, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not been right in what you said about me, as my servant Job was. “ (42:7) How did Job respond to the rebuke of his friends? Did he celebrate his vindication? Was he glad to see them get was they deserved for being fair-weather, discouraging friends when he needed them most?
No, he prayed for them. (42:10) It was then that the Lord restored his fortunes. He had more in the end of his life than he did in the beginning. He lived 140 more years with family and friends. (It says former friends, we don’t know if he continued in relationship with the friends who greatly discouraged him during his most painful time of life. He definitely prayed for them though.) Is there anyone in your life that is dealing with pain and difficulty? Have you put on the glasses of criticism and assumed their guilt in some of it?
Let’s learn a lesson from Job’s friends about how to treat those who are struggling. “Jesus, I pray that you would give me your eyes of grace and kindness rather than prejudice and self-righteousness as I seek to grow in friendship.”