It’s often been said that good help is hard to find. The book of Job is a perfect case in point. Satan (“the accuser”) doesn’t make an appearance after chapter 2, but he doesn’t need to. He’s got Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad to do his dirty work. In so doing, they unwittingly become the Larry, Moe, and Curly of the Old Testament—three stooges who keep making a bad situation worse. Indeed, God finally takes them to task for their performance. He says to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
Ironically, these men thought they were being helpful. They thought they were being supportive. They thought they were defending God against Job’s accusations and complaints. In reality, they were just pouring gasoline on the fire. They were pouring salt in the wound, adding insult to injury. They did not comfort Job, and God, in the end, did not comfort them with any affirmation.
One challenging aspect of this drama is that sometimes the three friends do speak words of truth. They do say some correct things about God. Their theology isn’t all bad. Why, then, is God so angry with them? It’s because misapplied truth is a serious form of error, and misapplied help is a serious form of harm. In other words, it’s possible to be right in a wrong way. It’s possible to be right in a wrong-headed way. Know-it-alls tend to be like that. In fact, some of the cruelest people in this world are religious people who set out to defend God. (As if he needed their help.)
Nevertheless, one can sympathize with these men to a certain point. They come to visit Job because they do care about him. They do want to help, but the situation they find themselves in is not easy. What could they possibly say to Job—a man who keeps getting brassy with the Almighty? A man who seems to keep crossing the line of disrespect with his Maker. They’re almost in a no-win situation. But as Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Job’s three friends would have been better friends had they kept their mouths shut in Job’s presence.
Eliphaz offers the arguments of a flawed mystic. Bildad offers the arguments of a false mediator. Zophar offers the arguments of a faulty minister. And that’s the problem. They’re offering arguments rather simply being present and being quiet. As a result, Job is still in pain, still in confusion, and still in despair. The help he receives is no help at all. What can we learn from their mistakes? This message offers some useful advice for two different but related groups. The first group is “When you are the friend wanting to help.” The second is “When you are the sufferer needing help.” The book of Job has plenty to say to both groups.
In the end, just as Jesus came into a world of suffering and ministered to people in pain, so believers can also enter into other people’s suffering and minister to them in his name. Such a ministry may not always require words. In fact, Jesus has a revealing middle name—it’s “With.” Emmanuel means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matt 1:23). It means God present to us, God in our midst. The believer’s ultimate witness, then, is “withness,” especially in times of suffering.
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