“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:11-13)
Tragedy and suffering are part of life, but does not have to be a way of life. All of us at one time or another have experienced some form of suffering or trajedy that has left us broken, confused, or in mourning. I can account numerous events in my life that have left me shaking my head in disbelief, fear, and sadness. It is in these moments that God will often send a friend as a source of comfort and strength to keep your head held high and your feet on the road. In my own life, one such friend that I have been able to rely on is Edwin.
Edwin and I met in college as partners on our collegiate debate team. Edwin was recruited to our debate team because of his outstanding individual public speaking skills. To this day 25 years later, I still remember one of his speeches that was in effect a eulogy to his beloved grandmother. I guarantee you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room has her “Baby” proudly extolled her virtues for us all. During that season, there were times when we both encountered frustration and disappointment with our individual performances in competition. It was in these times that we both would point each other to our mutual faith to recenter our focus, and set our minds on the task at hand.
Truth be told there were also times that we would grow frustrated with each other and eventually for a time, we actually parted ways – or more appropriately I ran away because of other issues in my own life. Several years later we reconnected and Edwin’s outpouring of grace was astounding and it was as if we had never been apart. Over the more recent years, while we live half a continent apart, Edwin and I have always found a way to reach out to one another at times when we have needed it most.
This past week, my family gathered to lay my grandfather to rest as he entered into the arms of Jesus for eternity. It was no surprise that the night before the funeral service, I received a phone call from this brother offering me love, support, and encouragement. And it wasn’t anything in particular that he said to me during that brief call that was all that important as it was the simple act of picking up the phone and calling. And that was the source of comfort in this time of mourning.
In the case of Job, his friends “sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Had they continued to keep their mutual mouths closed, this would have been all that was necessary to keep Job at peace. As Job cried out in mourning, his friends felt the need to respond – and each response was progressively worse the previous as they each ultimately began to speak judgement to upon Job for his circumstances. Eliphaz declares that Job must have committed sin worthy of God’s judgement. Bildad accuses Job of being unrepentent. And Zophar speaks the worst condemnation of all by declaring that Job deserved worse. Each speaking out of their own self-righteousness and ultimately driving Job to arrogantly and accusatively question the sovereignty of God.
The lesson here is that comfort is not found in the words we speak, but rather in the presence we seek. There is peace in the proximity of those whom we know care and express their love by simply being there in the midst of trial. It is when we open our mouths to try to inject our own feeble wisdom into God’s design that things go awry and comfort dissipates into discontent.
Remember, the whole point of the trials that Job experienced was to test his faithfulness – a trial that he passed. That is until his trusted friends opened their mouths and led him astray with unwise thinking. There is a fine line between accountability and judgement. Yes, we are called to be accountable to one another to be obedient to God’s Word restore one another to a right relationship with God, but judgement does not seek to restore but rather to separate and punish.
“Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Thank you, Edwin, for your faithfulness and kindness – as well as to all who have reached out to our family over the last week as we said goodbye to a beloved father, grandfather, cousin, and friend. You comfort has indeed been felt and your heart has been well received. Blessings to you all.