Being shunned by the very people who once cared for you is a most debilitating experience for someone who has lost a loved one to suicide or who is themselves suicidal. It is painful when someone who previously cared for you won’t meet your eye. Those who reluctantly say hello only when you speak first. Those who judge you a deficient Christian because you insist on talking of your pain and not putting on a happy face.
I have thought long and hard about this and the story of Job has helped me understand if not condone this cruel behavior. I have certainly done it myself and shudder to think of the damage I have done. I pray that I will remember Job’s cry that Eliphaz leave him alone when I start to judge and advise another.
When Job’s three friends arrive they sit with him in silence for a week. What a blessing that they are willing to just be with him. I think that while they are not there to comfort him they hesitate to condemn him. So they sit with him and if his experience is anything like mine, that indeed is a great comfort.
But then the friends begin to speak. Eliphaz, the eldest, speaks first. He has developed a lofty theology of God which stresses the divine purity and justice of God that leaves no room for the enigma of human suffering. For example, both the Israelites and the Egyptians suffered thirst but the experience had very different meaning in the eyes of God. The Egyptians thirst was punishment for drowning the Hebrew infants in the Nile. In contrast the Israelites thirst was a trial of faith. Both the Egyptians and the Israelites went though the same experience of suffering but it meant something different in each case.
Eliphaz and his companions did not have the wisdom to hesitate to judge Job a sinner. Wisdom that would have allowed them to wonder if the suffering of Job was perhaps not a punishment but attributable to another cause. The friends insistence that Job’s suffering is the deserved punishment of God fit their theology of God’s loftiness but they missed the occasion to love.
As Job continues to maintain his innocence and as they speak the men become less certain of the truth of what they are saying and therefore each becomes more strident in asserting that Job must have offended God. These friends are thus unwittingly contributing to God’s testing of Job’s faith.
The friends consider it blasphemy that Job wishes he had never been born. They do not notice that Job does not curse God. He does not praise God but instead he suffers in silence. This was probably all Job could do, to sit numbly and say nothing.
Friend, if your conscience is clear, then deal with your loss as a trial. Try to thank God for it, hard as that sounds. For God wills only good for those who love him so you can trust in him even while you are suffering. While it is painful, rejoice in that as well.