When Friends Come
When the going gets tough in your life … who shows up? What do they do? What do they say?
“When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home – they wept loudly … each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. They sat on the ground seen days and nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw he was in excruciating pain.” (Job 2:12; the word for excruciating means “increasing in greatness”)
It is called “sitting shiva” – the seven day period of mourning for Jewish families; this lasts for seven days when family members traditionally gather in a home and receive visitors. At the funeral, mourners traditionally wear an outer garment or ribbon that was torn at the funeral in a ritual known as keriah.
Here is one of the first things I want us to hear from Job’s story and ours – especially when we or someone we know is in the midst of a storm. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says that when one member of the body of Christ suffers – we all suffer. When one member rejoices we all rejoice. That means that as followers of Jesus Christ, when our brother or sister is in pain – we come. I don’t care how we do it … but we need to do it and keep on doing it. Followers of Jesus show up – and yes, if they are Methodists, they bring casseroles … and they also sit, laugh, cry, talk, read, and pray together. Sometimes, they just sit together. It is called the ministry of presence.
When Silence is Golden
In the midst of such storms, we often crave silence. English poet, Thomas Carlyle, once wrote: “As the Swiss inscription says: sprecfien ist silbern, schweigen ist golden (speech is sliver, silence is golden) … or as I might rather express it: speech is of time, silence is of eternity.” We love to fill the air, the cable feeds, the web, and our social media streams with words – LOTS of WORDS – but sometimes silence is … well, silence is just better. Here are a few other quotes you may have heard about silence. MLK JR: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Or how about this one from Mother Teresa: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Sometimes, silence truly is golden – especially when there are no words that can touch the depths of our pain and grief.
In Job’s case, the silence was golden compared to the round robin of words that were about to be unleashed on him by his “so called friends.” And the words that followed the silence? I doubt they could be called silver, for when they came, they came more like burnt ash, flaming darts, and heaping piles of disdain thrown atop Job’s already sky-high pile of despair and confusion.
When We Crave Words
In grief we sometimes also crave words: Robert Louis Stevenson: “The correction of silence is what kills; when you know you have transgressed, and your friend says nothing, and avoids your eye.” Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. “
Job sings the blues.
Eliphaz takes it upon himself to correct Job and to overcome his despair: “Afterward, Job spoke up and cursed the day he was born ……then Eliphaz responded: who can hold back words?” (Job 3:1, 4:1-2) How often do we do this in the church? We hear someone say something we disagree with in Sunday School or a small group study, and we immediately make it our main purpose to set them straight … help them think right … which usually means, help them see things the way we do.
Round and round the friends go – Round 1 (3:1-14) Eliphaz (Job), Bildad (Job), Zophar (Job), At the end of round 1, Job states emphatically: You, however, are plasterers of lies; ineffective healers, all of you. (13:4). / Round 2 (15-21) Eliphaz (Job), Bildad (Job), Zophar (Job) / Round 3 (22-31) Eliphaz (Job), Bildad (Job) … and then Job. At the end of the three rounds of Job’s so-called comfort from friends, we read this: “These three men stopped answering Job because he thought he was righteous. Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram was angry, angry with Job because he considered himself more righteous than God. He was also angry with these three friends because they hadn’t found an answer but nevertheless thought Job wicked. Elihu had waited while Job spoke, for they were older than he. When Elihu saw that there had been no response in the speeches of the three men, he became very angry.” (Job 32:1-5)
When We Defend
Here is the thing we need to stop doing when others are experiencing a storm. Stop defending God. We don’t need to defend God … God needs no defense. If we need to defend someone, then defend those who suffer. We need to stand with, defend, encourage, pray, weep, and comfort those who are experiencing excruciating pain. Let me say it again just to be clear. Defend, encourage, and stand with those who suffer – period. That is one of the key things we should learn from the book of Job.
I like the way Barbara Brown Taylor puts it: “The friends are in Job’s way. They are in God’s way. They are trying to insert themselves between the silence of God and the one for whom the silence is intended, and in the end their interpretations are more painful to Job than the silence itself.”
Romans 8:28 is a go to verse for many who experience storms. It doesn’t answer all the questions that we raise in times of crisis, but it does offer comfort. More familiar translations say: “All things work together for good to them that love God” (KJV). But that doesn’t get the Greek quite right. God is the subject of this sentence, not all the “things” .. not all the “stuff” … not all the calamity that may happen to us. The CEV reads: “God works all things together for good for the ones who love God.” Tony Campolo once gave a better translation of this passage when he said: “God is at work cooperating with those who love Him, to bring about good.” God doesn’t manufacture the storms and does not sit on high looking for whom to smite next … but God can take any circumstance, any pain, any amount of suffering and somehow … over time … with large doses of grace, patience, love, and mercy – turn it to good for all who love, trust, and wait upon the Lord. Thanks be to God.