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Life Issues

TO SPEAK OR NOT TO SPEAK?  

 

Because of a number of significant 'reversals' in my own life recently, I found myself reading through the book of Job. I was stunned again by the immensity of his suffering. He lost his children in one devastating catastrophe. Then, almost immediately, all his possessions were either destroyed or stolen and, finally, he virtually lost his physical health. I venture to say that none of us have ever known loss like that man knew loss. No matter what our experience may be, none of us could begin to compare our loss with his.  

 

It seems to me that the whole book of Job is an attempt to address the age long question as to why people suffer. More to the point, why do good people suffer? In a world that was fair and just, surely good people would be rewarded with blessings while bad people would be punished for their evil deeds. Right?  

 

According to the first two chapters, Job was a "good person". At least, God said so. Satan didn't argue with that evaluation.  

 

"Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil." (Job 1:8 NLT)  

 

Yet Job suffered terribly. However, my intention here is not to address the issue of suffering; rather, it is to draw some lessons from Job's three friends - Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar - about giving counsel and advice to those who are suffering.  

 

Those three friends, hearing of the tragic loss he had suffered, traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. They hardly recognized him when they saw him and for one whole week they said nothing.  

 

When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to demonstrate their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights."No one said a word to Job , for they saw that his suffering was too great for words" (Job 2:12-13 NLT)  

 

So, what lessons can we learn for those times when we are with those who are suffering?  

 

[1] THE 'MINISTRY OF PRESENCE'.  

Those three friends are to be commended for their willingness to leave their homes and travel to be with Job. Who knows what cost may have been involved for them to do that? Their desire was to comfort and console him. We could all do with friends like those in tough times. When Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar arrived they identified with Job's grief in the culturally appropriate way - tearing their robes and throwing dust in the air to cover their heads. Then, for 7 days they were smart enough to remain silent and just practice the 'ministry of presence'.  

 

As a Pastor I have often been asked by folk who are about to visit a relative or close friend who has suffered some significant loss, "What will I say?  "My response now is to ask them, "Why do you think you must say anything? The very fact you are there will speak volumes. Give them a hug (if appropriate) and then go into the kitchen and wash dishes if that will help. Just be there!"  

 

When news of my own father's sudden and unexpected death reached me, my wife simply hugged me and held me. We then went to meet another Pastor on our team and he did much the same. There were no words (initially, at least) and he just held on to us both.   People who are in the process of experiencing significant loss and its impact on their lives don't usually need words. But they do need us.

 

Sometimes we can find ourselves answering questions that the mourner is not asking. In those initial stages, let's put away what we think the mourner needs to hear and just be there for them.You may feel useless but most often your friend will say to you later, "You have no idea how much it meant to me that you were there for me that day".  

 

[2]THE MISTAKE OF DEFENDING GOD.  

That extended period of silence gave Job time to wrestle with his thoughts, feelings, questions and confusion.  Suddenly it all tumbled out and Job shared his broken heart (Chp.3)  In essence he said that it was all too much and he wished he had never been born.   According to his theological understanding, Eliphaz immediately recognized this as being anything but a "good Christian response" and felt it was his duty to challenge Job and defend God. This was a role reversal that was very unhelpful. Eliphaz came initially to comfort and console Job, not to challenge him.  

 

"In the past you have encouraged many a troubled soul to trust in God; you have supported those who were weak. Your words have strengthened the fallen; you steadied those who wavered. But now when trouble strikes, you faint and are broken. Does your reverence for God give you no confidence? Shouldn't you believe that God will care for those who are upright? Job 4:3-6 NLT  

 

 I am convinced that none of us should presume to preach or teach from the book of Job unless we have known some significant loss in our lives. Had Job's three friends ever experienced significant loss in their lives? There is nothing in the text to suggest that they had. In fact, the judgmental nature of their insights and advice given to Job would indicate that they had not.  

 

I believe in the high value of theology. But there is a time and place for the helpful application of Biblical truth. There is no need for us to defend our God. In fact, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were rebuked by the very God they sought to defend.  

 

After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "I am angry with you and with your two friends, for you have not been right in what you said about me, as my servant Job was.(Job 42:7  NLT)  

 

My purpose in writing in this manner is not to explore the whole book of Job or to analyze the theology of Job or his three friends. I simply want to urge my fellow Christians (especially Pastors) to monitor their words and actions as we care for those who are mourning.    

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