So Job had it pretty rough. If you know anything about the story of Job from the Bible, you’ll know he was one unlucky dude. Anything bad that could happen to a person happened to Job.
All his kids were killed in a freak accident, he lost his livelihood, he got these really gross boils on his skin, everyone kept mispronouncing his name.
And he was an Arsenal fan. I can’t back that one up with any real historical evidence, but seeing how horrible his life was; I wouldn’t be surprised if this was something he had to deal with too.
At least though he had his friends to comfort him.
If by friends you mean the people in his life who blamed him for everything that had happened and assumed that he must have done something terrible to deserve all the horrible things.
I’m sure his friends meant well (or maybe they were just a pack of bastards) but one things for sure, his friends didn’t help alleviate the pain.
If you’ve heard this story before you’ve probably heard someone explain it as about how sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to assholes, but in it all God is in control. That ultimately we don’t need to worry because the bad guys will get theirs in the end. Just you wait.
And maybe that’s true.
But I don’t think that’s really what is going on here.
Back to Job’s pals. Now I’m going to go ahead and guess that his friends were all male. Because only a man could be so stupid as to try and fix the pain and hurt that someone is going through by blaming their friend for it all.
We’ve all got those friends. Maybe you are one. I know my instinct is to be one of Job’s friends. Maybe not as extreme as to go all the way and accuse the people in my life who have real suffering, that come on, you must have done something wrong.
But I know that I’ll try and fix it. I’ll try and reason it out. I’ll try and figure out how they can best deal with it and quickly move on. Just ask my wife.
But not for their benefit. I mean, I’ll want them to be over this, I’m not a completely cold bastard. But most of the time that I am trying to make them feel better, it’s so I don’t have to face their suffering too.
In reality, I don’t want to feel bad just because you’re going through the roughest point of your life. How rude.
Another way that the story of Job has often been read is about how we deal with those times when it feels like God is absent in our suffering. In the story of Job, God seems to give Job’s life over to some dark forces to do what they want with him and his family. In the beginning Job clings tightly to his faith, proving God right in this cosmic bet He seems to have entered into.
He denies the chance to curse God, instead choosing to put even more faith into Him than before but eventually it all gets too much, even for Job and he has the audacity to question God.
God’s answer for Job? I’m God, I know what I’m doing, of course you don’t understand, you’re Job, I’m God, did I say that already?, get over yourself.
Something I’m sure made Job feel so much better.
Where does this leave Job? Pretty much nowhere. He’s still got no family and the only explanation God can seem to muster is, tough shit.
The plain, painful truth of it is that truly deep suffering is so horrible there may not ever be a good reason for it. There may not be an answer. Which means that ultimately maybe by trying to understand suffering, we’re asking the wrong question.
And if we think about it, what would happen if we were to receive a clear understanding of why really horrible life changing things happen? What if God said to us or Job, ok ok here’s why this happened and proceeded to give us an intricate look at all the good that would have resulted from our suffering?
We’d still have lost our best friend to cancer. You’ll still lose your job. They’d still be going to prison for a crime that we didn’t commit.
Explanations for our suffering don’t always mean we’ll feel better.
So what do we do?
Well that’s where Job’s friends come into the picture. Or at least where they were supposed to.
When we look at the story of Job simply for answers to why suffering happens to us we’re going to leave frustrated because God doesn’t give him anything really to work with. No Joel Osteen book to read, nothing.
What there is however, is a glimpse of how not to deal with our friends when they suffer, which subsequently reveals to us how we should be present for our friends and family who are suffering.
Suffering makes us feel like we are alone. That no one cares and no one else understands. But this is rarely true. When we endure heavy suffering for ourselves we appreciate the fact that we don’t need answers, what we do need is someone to sit with us, to cry with us, to hold us and to tell us “Me Too.”
Job’s friends didn’t get this. They wanted control of the situation because they couldn’t handle it. They wanted just like Job to understand but they couldn’t. Not because they were heartless but because they were asking all the wrong questions.
Dealing with others when they are in the midst of suffering is a burden. No doubt about it. It doesn’t make us feel good about life. It’s a bit of a downer.
But it’s where we face the deepest pain in our lives and where we experience life at a very visceral level. We want to deny the pain because ironically we feel like it will literally kill us. And I’m sorry to say it but sometimes it does. It’s not fluffy and light and for some of us it will never resolve. We’ll always carry the scars and for some of us, we just never recover.
Face to face with suffering causes us to become acutely aware of what it means to be alive. Having our friends simply “be” with us will not give us the answers or perhaps even make us feel better. It won’t necessarily end ok. It won’t help us to get over it quicker.
But…it will mean we are not alone.
Isn’t this one of the reasons the cross is such an important event for so many people across the world and over thousands of years. Because in that moment, when Jesus cries out abandoned and alone, He is crying out with us. Of course Jesus, died and for his best friends everything they had dreamed and hoped was going to happen was shockingly torn from them in a matter of hours.
Sometimes we need to live in this space. To not hastily rush into the Sunday. To allow ourselves to mourn. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus waited for three days before revealing Himself to his pals? Is there something important that we miss about suffering if we skip this part?
The darkness is still here. The dawn has not yet come. And that’s ok. Or maybe it’s not.
But we’re not alone.
And sometimes, that is the best we can hope for.