Some of the worst wounds come from the well-meaning efforts of friends. They’re just trying to help, but without anesthesia.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). They mostly hit the nail on the head. You know what they’re saying is true. Nobody else in the world would dare tell you.
But what happens when our friends put on the boxing gloves and start swinging wildly? Sometimes our own pain brings out the worst in the people around us. They want us to snap out of it already, and stop the whining. They’re impatient. And suppose they’re a teensy bit jealous. Friends can be complicated, even good ones. You can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that your friends won’t be kind of happy if you gain more weight than they do. Or earn less money.
And what happens when your friends have a nasty religious streak—sort of mean and small thinking? These were a few of Job’s pals. Makes you wonder why he hung out with them to begin with. At any rate, they were the guys who visited when he was down.
At an early point in the book of Job, it’s obvious that God isn’t going to fix anything quickly, even though Job proved faithful to Him. A typhoon of misfortune had landed upon his life, yet there is no divine move to repair anything.
There’s not even an offer to explain the chaos. Heaven is silent.
Enter Job’s three friends. From 2:11-13 we find them at their best, being quiet, respectful—“mourning with those who mourn.” Sometimes the best thing a friend could do is just shut up and cry with us. Look at the floor. Eat a bunch of nachos. Go bowling.
Finally though, their patient vigil gives way. When the dialogue begins between the four men, it will go on to comprise the bulk of the book of Job–chapter after chapter of long, winding speeches.
These friends are clueless about what God is doing in Job’s life. They’re sure Job is some kind of closet miscreant whom God has seen fit to punish. When Job resists their assumptions, they start triple-teaming him with verbal assaults based on their faulty logic.
The significance of these droning, lecture-like chapters shouldn’t be missed. Not much value comes explicitly from them. We don’t, after all, quote the misguided religious ideas of Eliphaz. I’ve never seen anyone who wore a tee-shirt with a saying from Bildad. Not many Facebook memes get posted with a quote from Zophar.
That’s because these guys are off the rails of good theology. Not only so, but they’re short of things that would impair them even if they were right—no insight, compassion, encouragement, or prayer. No wonder when we’re done reading these chapters we feel bored. No wonder as Job lived through them, he became more vitriolic.
An unexpected amount of spiritual maturation occurs in the matrix of friends, and often, even friends who understand very little about what we are going through.
How could that be?
For one thing, not every situation the Lord ordains for our growth has to do with down blankets and warm milk. Sometimes if you want a plant to grow, there’s nothing like a few pounds of manure to get it going.
Enter three bags of it, named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
Without them, Job is in a different kind of danger.
Since Satan has departed, Job’s life will begin to settle again, to adapt, to survive. Time will heal the wounds. He will simply get used to new and difficult circumstances.
But these friends will keep it stirred, raw, fresh. They won’t let him simply get over it. Their ignorant monologues keep the situation alive, making him talk about it, think about it, process it. They will drive him to drill down into some of the greatest, most meaningful questions that a person could ever ask. These are golden concerns that come from the heart and not from mere theological speculation.
In a fit of pain and anger Job cries out, “What is man?” (7:17) and “How can a man be right before God?” (9:2). The truest seeking of God Job has ever experienced germinates from the midst of all their empty religious platitudes, like a seedling springing up from a pile of cow dung.
Probably between tears, He proclaims, “I know that my redeemer lives” (19:25). It is an Old Testament cry for Christ and going along with it, a great hope: “I shall see God” (19:26-27).
A powerful and deep hunger has appeared in him. Job isn’t wishing for the return of his riches or the recovery of his health, or even to see his deceased children in heaven. All of those hopes have been eclipsed by a desire for a first person connection to God Himself.
I would never sign up for a course of growth like this. Please let me just study the Bible. I’ll be good, I promise. But in saying this, I show that I have no idea how to get from here to glory.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need pain. I’m even more certain I don’t need three stooges for counseling.
There was a time in his life when Job might have agreed with me.
Not now, though.
Graphic: Dino Gravato