Summary: Rather than show sensitivity to Job’s affliction, his friends critique him...and were dead wrong. Let’s be careful when we appraise people. And let’s be cordial when we disagree.
I recall a fight I had in seminary. I was arguing with another student over some theological matter, when he got mad and slugged me. Before I knew what was happening, I left the room, but not under my own power. A student walking by saw what was going on, grabbed me, and whisked me out before things got worse. You wouldn’t think of seminary as a place where a fight might break out, but it can happen. This reminds me of a cartoon I saw in Christian Today magazine, depicting two guys in a boxing ring...a spectator explains, “It’s about eschatology.”
We need to learn to disagree without becoming disagreeable. It’s not easy being cordial when you feel strongly about issues that matter. I was discussing politics with a friend recently when all of a sudden someone who overheard us started ranting about the government--and I mean ranting! I know how easy it is to get “fired up.” Most of us have some strong opinions; we may need to reign in our emotions when we’re expressing them.
In the book of Job, three so-called friends gathered to comfort Job, but they ended up ranting and judging him. Job needed encouragement, but what he got instead was condemnation. We all know the account, how Job was afflicted without any explanation. So his friends visited him, and our reading is but a sample of their invective. They assumed that Job was being punished by God, and they defended this position aggressively. They assumed to know Job’s intentions. And they were dead wrong. Only God knows all the facts. Job’s friends thought they could “play God”. In so doing, they proved to be pious snobs in love with their theology, while Job is seen as the only one who’s actually in love with God.
A month ago some self-appointed prophet came to our church wanting to talk to me; he knew nothing about our church, or me, but was eager to straighten me out with his wisdom. I really didn’t need that. I’ve also recently read a few books about how “messed up” the church is. I find it discouraging how people hold such a dim view of the church. No church is doing everything right, but we’re trying our best to remain faithful to Scripture, serve God, and honor Him as we ought.
If you’ve read through the lengthy discourses of Job’s friends, you find them saying some good things; in fact, you’d be apt to underline some of their statements in your Bible…but then they turn around and say something totally out of line, all the while absolutely convinced of their rightness. They appear kind of like us--wise one minute and foolish the next.
Job was understandably frustrated by this rebuke. He was doubly afflicted--first by tragic events, then by being told that his trials were all his fault. Even if Job’s friends were right about him, they certainly could’ve responded to his pain with greater sensitivity. But they were more concerned about being right than about being loving.
Job’s friends started out well. They sat with him in silence, sharing his suffering. They offered a comforting presence, and if they had stopped there they would’ve been seen today as models of compassion--a word that means “to suffer with” someone. But they couldn’t leave well enough alone; they had to evaluate Job’s suffering. When we know of people who are hurting, we need to be slow to speak and quick to listen. We need to bear their burdens and offer comfort. We need not “explain” their pain. Any theological appraisal can come at some other time, after we’ve had time to process the suffering and prayerfully consider how to address it--if at all. Most hardships make little sense, so we ought to simply leave well enough alone. Job observes: “We accept good things from God; should we not also accept evil?” (2:10).
Job doesn’t suffer quietly; he has some strong words for God. He asks the perennial question: “Why?” But (and this is important) he never loses his faith; he has what’s been called a “lover’s quarrel” with God (Capon). His tirades reveal that he cares enough about God to confront Him with his pain. The book of Psalms is full of angry prayers. Job prays through his frustrations, venting his hurt, which is something God welcomes and can handle…but He wants us to move from bewilderment to trust.
In spite of Job’s affliction, he affirms something that is seldom mentioned in the Old Testament--the resurrection of the body. Job professes, “I know that my Redeemer lives…after worms consume my body, I know that I shall see God” (19:25-26). Job could not imagine how his hurts could possibly be healed, yet he could see beyond his pain to eternal peace and the drying of all his tears.