JOB CHAPTER 2:11ff – JOB’S FRIENDS
We first meet Job’s three friends Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite after they hear of Job’s troubles and come together to provide Job comfort in his loss. In fact, it appears they have come to Job to sit ‘Shiva’ with him. The Hebrew word ‘Shiva’ means seven. The practice of Shiva begins on the day of the funeral and continues for seven days counting the day of the funeral as day one. In sitting Shiva with a friend, those coming are completely in tune with the mourning person. They wait on the mourner to speak and often Shiva is held in silence. When the mourner does choose to engage in conversation, those who have come to sit Shiva often share stories from the life of the one who died.
We don’t know the exact time frame of the sequence of events in Job’s story, but scripture tells us that these friends decided together to come to Job to sympathize with and comfort him when they heard about all of his troubles. Their deliberate choice to come to Job for the express purpose of comfort speaks to my heart.
When our daughter Becky died our family and friends were our lifeline in a raging storm that threatened to sink us. We had friends who came to our home that night unbidden and quietly prayed and lifted us up. They kept their peace, but at the same time offered us wisdom about travel choices in the midst of a winter storm. I was then and am still amazed at the graceful dance our friends maneuvered as they offered us love, support, and space to process our grief and progress toward a measure of healing and acceptance. This was the most beautiful personal experience of the body of Christ in action that I’ve ever known.
I see that grace in the way Job’s friends engaged with him at the dawning of his great grief and loss. As they glimpsed him in the distance, they wept aloud and tore their robes, sprinkling dust on their heads. As they drew near they were crushed by his grief and joined him sitting on the ground for seven days and seven nights. Theirs was a solidarity of silent suffering.
I’ve learned a lot about coming alongside others in grief through my own experience of grief. I always feel inadequate to say the right thing or to write words that will encourage and heal or to know what to do for someone I love who is deep in the grip of mourning. I still feel inadequate, but I’ve learned that just a note saying ‘I’m sorry’ or being with a friend and shedding a few tears or sitting quietly and letting my hurting friend take the lead … all of these mean so much in the face of deep sorrow and loss. At least in the beginning, as we first meet Job’s friends, they are truly his comforters and companions in grief.
I also know that part of my feeling of inadequacy and uncertainty about how to proceed in the face of death was about not having really considered death. It is easier to avoid thinking about this certain end to our lives. It is easier to give a moment to sympathy and then to turn back to life. But for those facing the reality of death either for themselves or someone they love, turning away is not an option. As a true friend to someone who is in this experience, we are called upon to think through our own understanding of death, the goodness or indifference or outright evil intent of the God we serve, who really is in control, and what is the purpose of life anyway? The answers we come to as we process these questions and more have the potential of shaping the course of our lives … perhaps THIS is what Job is really about!