What NOT to Say

All the wrong things.  After 7 days of silence, Job’s friends speak to him, and honestly, they would have done better to stay quiet or return home without speaking.  For twenty-two chapters they say all the wrong things.  Here is Job, having lost his farm, his livelihood, and worst of all, his family, and these three “friends” offer no comfort whatsoever. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar take turns rebuking Job, and the only point of their shallow theology is: “Job, buddy, this is all your fault.”  Eliphaz tells Job he is impatient (and who of us going through such trauma doesn’t want it fixed right now?).  Bildad condemns Job for speaking honestly about his pain.  Zophar tells Job he is babbling, and calls on God to correct Job’s poor theology. Speaking honestly about his confusion, Job is tormented by shame and humiliation at being a laughingstock a target of wicked and foolish people.  This brings more condemnation from his friends who say that Job must have done something wrong to deserve such judgment (cause & effect theology again); after all, only the wicked suffer this much. They accuse Job of doing way with the fear of God, and tell him to search himself and repent.  Adding insult to injury, they take offense at Job’s words, accusing him of thinking he knows more about God than they do (great to focus on yourself when your friend is hurting like this). In essence, his friends are telling him to shut up, suck it up, and stop spouting all this negativity.  Job’s wife has condemned him, now his friends do the same.  Everything they say increases Job’s isolation, and that just makes depression worse.  Job wants somebody to be on his side.

An arbiter. An umpire.  Over and over Job states that he has no one to plead his case before God, no advocate who would make his case in the cosmic court of God:

For He [God] is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him,

            that we should come to trial together.

There is no arbiter between us,

            who might lay his hand on us both.

Let Him take His rod away from me,

            and let not dread of Him terrify me.

Then I would speak without fear of Him,

            for I am not so in myself.    Job 9:32-35

What Job is pleading for is: a Mediator.  Someone Who will stand in the gap between him and God.  Someone Who understands what it is like to be human, and to hurt as we hurt, but Who is also holy enough to talk to God.  Repeated in chapters 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 33, this recurring theme defines what all of us as humans need – a Savior – and foreshadows the Gospel.  Jesus Christ is the One Who came and finally dealt with our need for reconciliation with God the Father, He is our Mediator in the Heavenly court before the throne of God.  He takes away the dread, and empowers us to be honest with God.  After all, God knows our griefs and our problems and our needs already.  We can’t hide them from Him by not speaking up, so just like Job, we should bring everything to God.  Telling God our needs by speaking them aloud starts our healing, and opens up spiritual solutions only God can provide.  And unlike Job, we do have an Advocate that stands before God on our behalf and pleads our case, Jesus, Who always lives to make intercession for us.1

I write this piece in the shadow of the mass murder of children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary School.  Twice as many children killed as Job lost, and the same pain, the same confusion, the same sorrow pours out of the parents, families, friends, and community that we find in these pages.  Would we barge into their grief with condemnation, blame, and shame for them? Lord forbid. When we enter into that sacred place of mourning, we are supposed to be the bearers of comfort, of grace, of love, being the hands, feet, heart, and arms of God to them.  We pray when they cannot.  We listen to their pain, their anger, their feelings of loss.  It is right to let them vent; to be their sounding board and let them know that God hears as well. The psalms are filled with songs of venting about suffering. As sisters and brothers in Christ, we are to become their connection to God when they are lost in their anguish.  Questions, not lectures, is what we use for those in pain, like these: “I’m so sorry to hear about ________; this must be so difficult for you.” “Can you fill me in on what’s been happening?”  “Would you like to share your thoughts with me?” “It hurts to know you are going through this. What can I do?”  When they answer, do not condemn them for their feelings or pain, validate them.  “I understand that you are hurting, I understand your anger.”  “I believe you. My heart goes out to you.”  And just listen.  As long and as many times as they want to share.  Healing takes time.  Pray for them, and if they will permit, with them.

All Job wanted from his buddies was validation, someone to say that he was normal to feel his suffering and loss.  He wants someone to say, “You’re not wrong to feel this way.  And you’re not crazy.”  And most of all, “God still cares.”  It’s what we all want, and what we all need.

1. Hebrews 7:25

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