For anyone familiar with the story of Job, his friends are well known as being terrible comforters to a man in misery. Job comments on multiple occassions about this, and God finishes off the book by condemning them. The question is: Why? What is it they didn’t get?
To their credit, Eliphas the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, an Zophar the Naamathite begin by just being with him 7 days and not saying a word (2:13). Job then begins by cursing the day he was born, and finishing his opening lament with:
“Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” – Job 3:25-26
Bildad is the first to speak, and they all say, in essence, that Job has brought this on himself by sinning, that God is correcting him, and that Job needs to recognize this and repent. Certainly nothing so horrible could happen to a person and his family if it wasn’t judgment. His friends are trying to help, and are really just saying what is obvious to everyone else. While they feel for Job, he is obviously in denial about some sin in his life and God is getting his attention so he can ‘get right with the Lord.’ To them, it’s not a mystery, and Job has no reason to be confused.
Job, however, knows he has done nothing to deserve this, and is right with God. He hasn’t sinned, yet it does look like judgment. He’s done the right things, yet his world was torn apart. He refused to curse God, yet still suffered. Disillusioned, he had no desire to keep living. His friends only added to his confusion by insisting on giving him pat answers. Where did they fail? They failed by not listening. They failed to dialogue. They failed to understand his need, and his heart. They failed by not just sharing pain with a fellow human being. It makes me wonder: How often do we as Christians do the exact same thing? How often do I?
I just finished reading Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, and his perspective on helping those who are suffering is powerful:
If there is any posture that disturbs a suffering man or woman, it is aloofness. The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant men who do not want to burn their fingers. They are unable or unwilling to express their feelings of affection, anger, hostility, or sympathy. The paradox is that those who want to be for “everyone” find themselves often unable to be close to anyone. (Nouwen, 71-72)
Nouwen, Henri. The Wounded Healer. London: Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd. 1994.