Sympathize Not Analyze

BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY… Now when Job’s three friends—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite—heard about all this adversity that had happened to him, each of them came from his home. They met together to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they looked from a distance, they could barely recognize him. They wept aloud, and each man tore his robe and threw dust into the air and on his head. Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw that his suffering was very intense.”  Job 2:11-13 HCSB

Outside of Job’s wife, Job’s friends, who intended to bring comfort, ended up bringing as much confusion and pain emotionally as Job experienced physically. However, even when “things go bad” there is often some positive that can be observed.

First of all all three of these friends were concerned enough about Job that they did something. They made the effort to meet up and to travel together to see Job in the midst of his suffering and stayed by his side. Their intent was good, to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him.”

As I experienced my health crisis, some of my first visitors were three legislative friends who came to visit, and pray for me. I’m sure like Job’s friends, the condition they found my in was shock to them. I was in a condition where I was not able to remember their visit, but was pleased when I learned from family how they took the time to travel, come together and to show their concern. Over the course of my hospitalization there were many others who followed suit. The thought of the time and effort it took for these friends and family members to come for a short visit was most humbling and encouraging. They did not travel across the city, but for some almost across the state.

What is important to remember is the power of presence. When Job’s friends came to his house they entered into his grief. One of the best things they did was to say nothing! That is difficult, because silence can be awkward and we are tempted to “say something” just to break that condition. His friends did not wait in silence for a few moments or hours, but for days.

They then allowed Job to speak first. As we move into chapter 3, we find Job’s first discourse with his friends, as he begins to verbally express his pain and discouragement. What happens after this, turns the tide as Job’s friends feel the need to confront him in his expression of anger and despair. They wanted to help Job to “make sense” of his suffering and why it was happening.

The easiest explanation was that Job had “hidden sin.” They believed this suffering revealed that the life Job was living outwardly was not genuine. We see as we read the many chapters that follow, we read the attempts of his friends one by one to show themselves right with Job trying to respond their views and opinions about Job, life, suffering and God.

This points to a common misconception and that is, “if I can understand my suffering, if I can “make sense” of it, I can accept it.” That is why the question, “why?!” is the first response to crisis. I recall going through a time of my own grief many years ago. Irealized that when I asked “why?” I really wasn’t looking for a rationale response, but was just processing what I could not understand or comprehend or make sense out of.

In the midst of suffering it is better not to attempt to answer the “unanswerable” but to keep our focus on what we do know. God is in control, He loves us, He answers prayer (many times in different ways than we expect) and as we trust in Him, He gives us hope.

Prayer for Today… “Lord, thank You that You choose us to be a source of strength and comfort for those who are suffering. Remind us of the power of presence and keep us from trying to speak when we should be silent. Allow us to be to others what you are to us; unconditional love, courage and strength when it is needed the most.”