Close friends can be like physicians. It’s okay if they’re present when you feel your worst and it’s okay if they’re present to help you mend. They see you at your best, but because they’re friends, they’re also permitted to see you when you’re disheveled and even teetering at what seems death’s door. Job’s friends appeared at the beginning of his journey into suffering, they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights – without speaking a word – and then they listened to him vent bitterly about his horrible situation. In essence, this is The Book of Job.
The simple picture above seems so expressive (to me) of the situation in which Job finds himself. Job’s friends are anxiously looking at Job, whose wife is also staring, waiting for her husband (in his present misery) to curse God and die. Hands outstretched, Job’s eyes are turned heavenward as he appeals to the God of the Universe. What’s going on, God?
Job has lived a life of integrity, and there’s an indication implicit in the above image that Job’s friends have always looked to him for answers to their perplexities. He’s been their go-to guy whenever they’ve needed advice or help. They’re looking to him now … but he doesn’t have any answers, at least not acceptable answers. He seems completely stymied by his circumstances! They’re asking him, What’s going on, Job?
In my previous posts about Job (chapter 1, 2, 3, 4), I’ve given some basic details about Job’s epic struggle with suffering. After Job poured out his lament, his friend Eliphaz spoke (chapter 4). In chapter 5, Eliphaz continues his attempt to comfort Job. He wants to help his friend, provide comfort in the same way Job has offered comfort at his time of need. He begins by challenging Job to consider that suffering comes to all; this is just Job’s time.
Eliphaz speaks wisely to Job. He notes that human suffering is a constant. In the same vein, he notes that men are privileged to enjoy peace and blessing on the earth. He notes that no man can be (in him or herself) pure or just before Almighty God.
Of all Job’s friends, Eliphaz is perhaps the most sympathetic, but his message fails nonetheless. Eliphaz maintains that God doesn’t afflict without cause (i.e. Job has surely sinned and his affliction proves it). Furthermore, Eliphaz urges Job to buck up and accept God’s punishment. He suggests that once God has finished reproving Job, there will be deliverance and Job’s end will be so much better than his beginning.
Again, it’s worth remembering, Eliphaz has no idea about the heavenly conversations between God and Satan. From a human perspective, Eliphaz believes Job’s claims to innocence and integrity must be flawed. For myself, I recognize how I have, from time to time, comforted a friend as Eliphaz did … assuming my friend suffers due to his or her sin. I’m thankful Job remained steadfast, even when his friends got wobbly.