“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.
“My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi,
Like the torrents of wadis which vanish,
Which are turbid because of ice
And into which the snow melts.
“When they become waterless, they are silent,
When it is hot, they vanish from their place.”
I’ve always found the book of Job to be a very difficult read; so for the most part, I avoid it. But this year I’ve committed to reading through the Bible chronologically, and since Job comes right after Genesis 11, it’s fresh on my mind.
In Chapter 4, Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, begins a discourse against Job in which he accuses him of bringing all of his suffering upon himself because of his own sin; “Remember now, whoever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed?” (Job 4:7) And for two entire chapters he painstakingly builds his case against Job, going so far as to say that if it were him that was suffering, he would seek God and present his case before him – implying that Job should ask for mercy for the sins he’s committed.
In chapter 6, Job responds to his friend’s accusation. He, in turn, accuses all three of them of being like the wadi – a river bed that is a torrent during the abundant rainy season, but dries up quickly when the rains stop and the sun becomes hot. Job realizes that Eliphaz is right in saying that the wicked suffer; and though he disagrees that the righteous don’t, he responds that honest words are indeed painful, but asks what he hopes to accomplish by speaking them now at such an inappropriate time.
To this point, Job has not asked his friends for anything. That they are there with him at all is entirely of their own doing. In spite of this, each one of them in turn feels obligated to judge Job by his circumstances; coming up with whatever they can to show that only those who deserve to suffer, do. But Job responds “You see a terror and are afraid. Have I said, ‘Give me something?” (Job 21-22).
In reading this, I began to wonder why so many of us tend to respond to our hurting friends in much the same way as Eliphaz. Not necessarily with judgment, but with unsolicited advice and many words. The reasons may vary for some, but I think Job’s response above may hold a clue for most of us and certainly for Eliphaz; who it seems may be posing his argument not for Job’s sake, but his own.
When we see our Christian friends and family suffering, in spite of the good and righteous lives they may be living, it strikes fear into our hearts. We try to rationalize that there must be some reason this is happening. To consider that the sufferings of their lives are entirely in God’s control, and not necessarily connected to anything they’ve done, and seemingly without reason or purpose, means that we could be next. We see in their circumstances that we have no guarantee of safety from life’s tragedies, regardless of the depth of our relationship to God, or the genuineness of good and honest lives lived in His name.
And so we go about defending our belief, our hope, that there must always be a reason or a purpose in suffering by speaking out of turn to those who are broken. And by doing so, we hope to bring ourselves relief from the terror; though most of the time they’ve asked for nothing, but our presence and kindness.
I have had a wide range of thoughts and feelings about the book of Job. And I’ve struggled with why God would allow this degree of suffering in the life of someone He described as “no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Job 1:8.
Some assert, as did Job’s friends, that his suffering was due to his personal sin. And certainly, we are all sinful creatures. But when Satan presents himself to God again, God further validates Job’s uprightness by saying to him, “he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause“. So if Job was truly blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil; why did he suffer so greatly?
We may never know this side of heaven, if I’m being honest. But one thing we do know, suffering is not limited only to the evil, godless, and god-hating. Nor is blessing reserved only for the godly. And maybe that’s the point behind all of this. We know that God is good. But, do we trust Him even when we don’t understand His ways? Would I hold fast my integrity if everything were suddenly taken from me in a day? Would you? Or will we in anger curse Him to His face, as Satan assured God Job would do?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7, tells us:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Surely we can extend this definition of love to Him who gave everything to redeem us? Then, let’s hold onto it with tenacity when things don’t go the way we think they should.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6