The Friends Dig In
Once Job’s friends show up and open their mouths, we begin to see what was really on their minds during those seven days of silence. What was really going on was that they were condemning him.
It is a distasteful fact, but a fact nonetheless, that the three friends who came “to sympathize with [Job] and comfort him,” fell far short of that goal. Far from actually comforting Job, in their minds they were picking him to pieces. They were analyzing him up and down for faults, loopholes, and hidden sins, casting around in search of reasons for all the terrible things that had happened to him. Although we are told that these discreet men said nothing at all to Job for an entire week, I can imagine that they whispered confidentially among themselves.
The main point with this mission of mercy was there no mercy given. Certainly, Job himself did not find any comfort from his friends. On the contrary, we will watch him grow increasingly angry, to the point where his friends, impatient with his uncooperative attitude, will find it impossible to sustain even the outward semblance of sympathy towards him. Instead of truly identifying with him, they will distance themselves and withdraw. Feeling overwhelmed, and scrambling to get a better fix on the problem, they will do the only safe thing: they will pull back and assume the stance of objective analysts. Naturally, they will go about all of this in a very warm and godly way and with the best of intentions. They are like benign family physicians, kindly old docs faced with a rough case and scratching their balding heads. Yet without realizing it, by their clinical theorizing they are effectively withdrawing their human affections, their friendship, and this is at the very time when intimate friendship is most needed.
Obviously, none of this is spelled out quite so early in the story; but in later chapters, it comes spilling out. Like all fair-weather friendships, and all flawed theology, Job’s friends stop short of the cross.
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