Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place … And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him … Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? Yet who can keep from speaking?”
Job’s friends show us how to respond when someone is going through the depths of pain and sorrow—and then they show us how not to.
Job’s friends had front-row seats in witnessing the depth of his suffering, and they struggled to bring him any measure of comfort by their words. Their eventual response was heavily theoretical and quite unhelpful.
There is great danger in commenting on affliction or speaking to someone who is suffering if we have either not experienced something similar or have not taken time to listen to them well and to pray to God humbly. Job 16 describes these same friends as miserable comforters—those who “could join words together” against Job and whose words had no end (16:4).
In search of an instant cure and a quick answer to Job’s suffering, his friends piled on the accusations. Zophar in particular reminded Job that he deserved worse than what he was currently experiencing (Job 11:4-6). In the same vein, Eliphaz suggested that maybe Job had been wandering from God and needed to listen more carefully to Him (22:21-23). These men adopted an overly simplistic approach to Job’s suffering—an approach which hurt rather than healed. They were quick to the draw and ready with an answer to any and all of Job’s laments. When Eliphaz asked, when he first opened his mouth, “Who can keep from speaking?” he should have answered, “Me”!
Job was scathing about their means of counseling him: “You whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:4-5). And in fact, his friends had done exactly that—to begin with. They had sat with him for a week without speaking.
In the experience of suffering, silence in the sufferer’s presence is often a far greater aid than many words. It is quite possible that Job would have experienced greater comfort and companionship had his friends maintained their initial response: joining him on the ground, sitting, not speaking a single word.
Silence is often a missing ingredient in our response to suffering. While it is certainly not the only response that is needed, it is vastly undervalued. If we endeavor, without an agenda, to unplug from all the noise around us and listen to the voices of the suffering, we might make far more progress in that silent contemplation than any of us imagine. And we may then have far more useful things to say, both in what we say and in how we say it. Job certainly thought so. Is there someone whom you could bless with your quiet presence this week?
Psalm 42, Psalm 43
Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg