On being Job’s friend

Listen to your friendOne of the lessons to be learned from reading the book of Job is that we should be very careful when counseling someone who is going through a difficulty. Job’s friends felt compelled to give advice to Job which ended up being not very helpful.

I have noticed in Christian circles that there is a subtle pressure to have the correct Bible verse or the perfect prayer for any situation that one encounters. Too often we function as if quoting a verse or offering a prayer will magically wipe away the difficulty.

God is gracious and sometimes does intervene in spectacular ways, but we must remember that it is God that does the work of changing the situation. Our prayer is an intermediate cause at best.

Job’s friends offered Job some measure of truth in what they said, but missed the larger issue.The friends were blinded by their presuppositions about the situation and did not stop long enough to reflect on what Job was saying before they bombarded him with nonsense.

James tells us that we should be quick to hear and slow to speak. A long time ago I was told that I have two ears and only one mouth and I should use them proportionally. This means that I should listen twice as much as I speak.

We cannot know the difficulty someone is in without listening. Any assumptions that we make are likely to be wrong, so we should not assume.

Our world has no need of pat answers. No-one, Christian or otherwise, needs to be bombarded with Bible verses in response to a difficulty.

This is not to say that Scripture does not speak to that difficulty, but what is shared must be shared with wisdom and sensitivity, both of which require that the situation be understood before offering a response.

My takeaway from this is that I should not feel pressure to have a perfect response in every situation. I sometimes struggle to understand my own context and should have no delusions that I am able to fully understand someone else’s situation.

Be real. Be sensitive. But be wise.

Sometimes the best thing to say to a friend is nothing at all.