In my trek through the Bible, I am currently reading in the book of Job. Every time I read Job, it makes me feel more than a little disquiet. Here is the story of a godly man, persecuted horrendously by Satan. Broken and despairing, Job is badgered by ungracious friends through much of the book. Then, if insensitive friends weren't bad enough, Job gets his wish of presenting his case to God himself - talk about a whammy ending!
At present, I am at the part of Job's story where he is sitting covered with sores, bemoaning his afflictions. His friends sit with him and give him "counsel" about the reasons for his present suffering. Some of their insight is almost right, some of it is really screwed up, and some of it is downright insensitive. This goes on for chapter after chapter. Eliaphaz speaks; Job answers. Bildad reproves; Job replies. Zophar tells Job he deserves even worse than what he's getting; Job responds. Eliaphaz accuses; Job defends. On and on and on....
(My mom had a formula for analyzing the words we spoke as children. "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" If Job's friends had been raised by my mother, they wouldn't have had nearly as much to say, and the book of Job would've been much shorter!)
So, why, I wonder, did God include in His Holy Scripture this messed up, wearisome, back-and-forth conversation between Job and his friends? As I'm reading, I can't help but be amazed that their conversation goes on for SO MANY CHAPTERS. How do they not grow weary of their own speech?!
This picture of Job and his friends is such an accurate picture of the messiness and yuck of real life and real relationships. I love how God doesn't sugar coat the truth about life in this fallen world. We all suffer (though, thankfully, not like Job). We love God and desire to honor Him with our lives - but in the gore of life in the trenches, rightly affirming what we know to be true about God can be a struggle, even for the most righteous. Articulating this faith on the canvas of life is a process, worked out slowly (day after day, chapter after chapter) and with much fumbling. Also, like Job's friends, we have all given really bad counsel - maybe our intentions were good, but our timing was totally lousy or our message was just flat-out wrong.
But something new struck me during my current read-through of Job. These loser friends of Job's....I think they really were his friends. They showed up right when Job lost everything, and they stayed with him all the way until the end of the book. Sure, they bashed him when they should've comforted. They preached on the judgment of God when they should have spoken of His mercy. They spouted on for page after page about things they truly did not understand. But, through all the misery and nastiness, they stayed. And Job stayed with them. These three friends were still there when, after much suffering, Job answered God's examination and repented.
In the final chapter of the book, Job is vindicated before his foolish friends by God Himself. God is angry with Job's friends, however, and He demands they bring a sacrifice to atone for their stupid speeches. In fact, God is so angry with these men that He says Job must offer the sacrifice on their behalf - He doesn't want them even approaching Him.
Now if I were in Job's place, I'd probably write those guys off on the spot - they were no comfort in his suffering, and only added to his misery. But Job doesn't write them off. He doesn't even say, "Ha! I told you that you were wrong, you bunch of morons!" He takes the sacrifice the three friends bring and he offers it to God. Job prays for his friends. God hears Job's prayer for these messed up friends and turns His anger away from them.
Job was transformed by this encounter with the living, sovereign, holy God of the universe. By humbly submitting to Job's ministering on their behalf, Eliaphaz and Bildad and Zophar demonstrate they were transformed, also.
The saga of Job and his friends serves as a challenge for believers today. We go through some nasty stuff in this life. Even within the body of Christ, we screw up terribly in our relationships and unwittingly hurt one another with our words. But, like Job and his friends, we need to stay together and see this journey through to the end. When we encounter the holy God and experience His grace - like Job did - we must turn right around and extend that grace to those around us, even to the point of praying for the souls of the very ones who have offended us. And like Job's friends, we must learn to speak and walk with humility.
At the end of the book, we find Job and his friends, still together, corporately experiencing God's mercy and restoration. I'm glad they stuck it out.
2 hours ago