What Job’s Friends Got Right
It’s easy to overlook—mostly because they spend 22 chapters saying some of the most unhelpful, insulting, misinformed things a person can possibly say—but for the span of three verses, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are the poster children for true friendship in action.
Job 2:11-13 shows us what they got right. When they heard the news about what happened to Job, “each one came from his own place”—apparently three different countries or regions, probably requiring considerable travel—and “made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him.”
They came because they cared. Their mutual friend was the center of incredible tragedy and pain, and they each made the journey to be there with him. They wanted to be there with him.
When they finally saw Job with their own eyes, so emaciated and afflicted they could barely recognize him, “they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven.”
Their friend was in pain. They felt it, and expressed it as best they could. Torn clothes, wailing, and ashes.
And then one the most incredible displays of friendship ever recorded in the Bible: “So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”
Seven days of silence.
Seven days of sitting—of just being present. Supporting their friend by being there and shutting up.
That’s what they got right.
And so often, it’s what we get wrong.
When we’re in pain—when tragedy strikes in our lives—I find that generally, what we want is for people to mourn with us and to comfort us. To acknowledge our pain, to validate it, and to show us that they love us.
As a comforter, it can be difficult to sit down in the silence of brotherhood and not talk. We want to talk—we want to explain why things will be okay, to offer perspective, to cheer up.
There’s a time for that. There’s a time “for every purpose under heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, 7). But sometimes, in our own discomfort, we try to rush them past the time of weeping, mourning, and silence. We try to “fix” these seasons like problems needing a solution. And we say the things that sound like they should be helpful, but ultimately ring hollow in the aftermath of tragedy.
Don’t worry—you’ll see him again one day.
Wow, this reminds me of the time that I…
I know it looks hopeless now, but just remember…
It’s a good thing we have the promise of…
Phrases like these are well-intended, but what they really sound like is, “Here’s the line of reasoning that should fix your pain.”
That’s not comfort. That’s not the way to mourn with someone.
Is there a time to remind someone of the incredibly precious promises God has made us? Of course. Is there a time to offer perspective on a situation? Absolutely. Is that time while someone is still trying to process all the pain and misery they’re feeling?
Let the hurting hurt. Fight the urge to offer a way forward and just be there. They know about the Kingdom. They know about God’s promises. They know other people have experienced this pain.
Let them cry—and cry with them. Let them hurt—and hurt with them. There will be a time for healing later—a time to bind up the wounds, to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (Isaiah 35:3). But don’t rush there.
Sit. Give them time.
Job’s friends got a lot of things wrong—pretty much from the moment they opened their mouths. I think, despite the actual content of their speeches, they said what they said with the best of intentions. They wanted to help their friend. (Instead, they just managed to shove their feet in their mouths over and over and over again—but that’s another story.)
They did get something right, though.
When their friend was in pain, they came to him. In a display of solidarity, they wept with him and they hurt with him. They showed him that he was not alone—that he was loved—that his pain was legitimate. And then, patiently, they sat with him.
When our friends are hurting, we could do far worse than taking a few notes from the (early) pages of Job’s friends.
Until next time,
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