How to Be Job’s friend

We all know the story of Job and his three friends who came to visit. These three men are generally disparaged for their tiring, all-knowing speeches explaining Job’s misfortunes. It’s true, they talked so much that they ran out of words. Despite their pompous speeches, you know what I think of them? I think they were amazing friends. One could make the case that the story of Job is one immense lesson on friendship. Remember, Job gave a big long speech, too, and God reprimanded all four of them when He started up. (Reading Job 38-41 in The Message version will give you a fresh perspective on how God talks to His best friends. It’s actually hilarious.)

Why were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar excellent friends?

Because they showed up.

When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  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 show 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 2:11-13

They took time off work and travelled to be with Job. This was probably neither convenient, comfortable, nor profitable for them. But they were not afraid to enter into his calamity. They mourned deeply with him. And this is the astonishing part: they sat with him FOR SEVEN DAYS AND NIGHTS WITHOUT SAYING A WORD. Who does that? A really, really good friend. A better friend than I have ever been.

These friends who are known for their verboseness, if we read the story carefully, were initially slow to speak.

I think we can learn a lot about friendship from these guys, particularly about being a friend to someone in crisis.

How can we be a good friend to the Jobs in our life?

1. Go to them.

Show up. Just be there. Don’t be afraid to enter into the mess, into the darkness. It’s a very Jesus-like thing to do. {“I was in prison, and you visited me.” – Matthew 25:36}  We all fret about what to do for our hurting friends, and often this discomfort keeps us away. I’ve come to learn that the main doing that’s needed is just showing up. The presence of a friend makes the dark cell of grief a little brighter.

2. Talk less.

I imagine Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were a deep comfort to Job those seven silent days. And I imagine they cancelled out all that comfort the moment they started talking. Trying to explain why God would let bad things happen to Job. “God has a reason for everything,” we say. “God never gives us more than we can handle.” “Have you confessed your sin?”  “Maybe God is trying to teach you a lesson.” “God works all things together for good.” “One day things will get better.”  Anyone who has been the recipient of these words during crisis knows how much they do NOT help. In fact, they hurt. Of course we want to explain why bad things happen; and who wants an explanation more than the hurting person? But in the middle of the pain is the WRONG TIME to make assumptions, to pretend to be God. These guys tried their best to have answers, and God nailed them on their presumption. {“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has,” God said to them. – Job 42:7} Any words based on discomfort, obligation, unbelief, assumption, judgment, or agenda will hurt your Job and your God. Who are we to know why bad things happen? It’s okay to not know.

It’s okay to not have answers. Don’t try to fill the emptiness with your words.

3. Listen humbly.*    

*This one is for the friends as well as the Jobs.

Job also spoke against the Lord, but after the Lord’s rebuke, he was quick to LISTEN, quick to repent and say God, You’re right! I’m listening to you! I take back everything I said (Job 42:1-6). Job was quick to ask for forgiveness, which put him right with God. But Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were still in need of reconciliation, and their humility came at an even harder price.

“So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf.”        Job 42:8

God told them to go to Job and receive a prayer of forgiveness and blessing from him. Job, whom they loved yet judged. Instead of listening to themselves talk, they listened to God’s voice, counseling them how to be a friend to Job, how to mend what they messed up. And simultaneously how to set things right with God. 

Job also listened to God’s voice and prayed for the friends who had just slammed him in his time of deepest need.  Job, covered in disease, plagued by loss, with absolutely nothing to give. Job, who should have been receiving blessing from his friends. And yet God turned the tables. It was Job’s prayer that made everything right again in their relationships to each other and to God. Job, the friend of God. {Job 1:8, MSG}

These friendships with God and man were interwoven and affected by each other in a profound way. 

The story of Job shows us that God, friendship, suffering, and forgiveness are inseparable. If something is off with one, all connections fray.  If we are humbly listening, God will show us how to make it right with God and man. And listen we must, for it may look or sound different than we would assume. Perhaps suffering is an opportunity to deepen friendships. (Could friendship be that valuable to God?)

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  – Matthew 5:23-24

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. – James 5:16

Job’s prayer produced wonderful results indeed:

When Job prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before! Job 42:10

Here another unseen detail about Job’s story speaks loudly. When was everything restored for him? When he swallowed his pain and pride and prayed for his friends, out of obedience to God. When they were all listening, humbled, reconciled.

The result of right friendship with God and man was not only forgiveness, but abundance!

I wonder what would have happened if this trio never made the trip to visit their friend. Would Job have been restored? Would the four of them have remained friends? Would they have ever heard God’s awesome speech? Would we have this profound understanding of relationship? This is why I think Job’s story may be a giant lesson in friendship.

So then, friends, let’s learn from it. Let’s not let Job’s suffering go to waste.

If you can relate to Job, I deeply hope this last point encourages you. Don’t give up. Your abundance is coming. Keep listening. Keep putting up with stupid people who don’t know how to be your friend right now. Give them grace, even though you have nothing to give. It’s not fair, I know. But you are not alone – Job has shown you the way. Faithfulness is being refined in you in ways you cannot see, and one day you will bear the fruit. One day you’ll be able to sit with someone in silence, and you’ll know how much it means to them  to have a friend well-acquainted with suffering. What a gift silence can be. Speaking of being no stranger to sorrow, you have one of those friends right now in Jesus. You are not alone. {Isaiah 53:3}
And if you have a friend in a hard place, please don’t be afraid to draw near to them. They need you – not for your theology, not for your perfection, not for your “timely words” – just for your presence, flawed as it may be. Don’t be afraid. If you mess it up, maybe God will make something even more beautiful out of the restoration. Maybe He’s been waiting for it all along. Listen, and God will counsel you on how to be their friend. After all, it’s not about you – it’s about God. 

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