Eliphaz claimed to come in order to comfort Job, but he was not kind to him at all. He had reproached him for becoming discouraged after teaching others to stand strong. Now maybe it was true, but “a despairing man should have the support of his friends,” they should show some kindness, not severity. Otherwise, the man might be driven away from God altogether. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.” Somehow, it looks as though Eliphaz falls far short of this description of a friend.
We might as well face it: it’s Job’s suffering, and his suffering alone, which turns his friends against him. This is so often what also turns us away from those who desperately need our love. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, who from her own battle with lupus had reason to know about such things, “Sickness is a place . . . where there’s no company, where nobody can follow.” How easily we distance ourselves from other people’s pain! We are so good at rationalizing and accounting for suffering, so poor at doing anything about it, and so devastated when it is our own turn to suffer.
I used to work in security for a large department store. One of my responsibilities was to provide first aid and CPR. One of the Department Managers experienced a severe asthma attack. The severity was to such an extent that she completely stopped breathing and collapsed. While her skin was turning ashen color and her lips blue, we check for a pulse and found none. My partner and I thought she was dead, or certainly very close to it. We were about to begin CPR just as the ambulance arrived. This manager spent several days in ICU at one of the local hospitals. The saddest and most disappointing aspect to this crisis was not that she was close to dying; it was not the pain of having her daughter watch in horror as her mother collapsed with the look of death on her face. The most frustrating and disappointing thing was that afterward very few of her coworkers ever asked how she was or thought to check on her while she stayed in the hospital. I suppose everyone was just too busy and occupied with his or her own life and crises to bother.
Job wanted comfort, but ended up comparing Eliphaz to a deceitful brook and graphically pictures the disappointment of a caravan in the desert that turned aside in order to find water in its hour of need and finding the brook black and frozen with ice.
“Phaz, you are no different! You, too, proved to be of no help. You haven’t given me any comfort from the heart of God, you frozen stream. You look at me, and I look so loathsome to you that you are afraid of me—and you are afraid to be kind to me just in case you’re counted a partaker of the sins in which you charge me.
“But tell me, what strength do I have that I should still hope and what do I have to look forward to that I should be patient? I am not made of brass to endure all this. I am helpless.” It is obvious the attacks are laying hold of Job. His heart is still anchored, but his humanity is definitely crying out.
Anyone who has wrestled with serious illness in a hospital room, and received visitors, will know that between the sick and the well, between the paralyzed life of the sufferer and the full, energetic outer world of the visitor, there exists a vast and nearly uncross able chasm.
Then again, is “uncross able” really a word in the Christian vocabulary? No, it does not have to be. Because of the cross of Christ, every chasm has already been crossed, every alienation bridged. If Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were alive today and could read about themselves and their suffering friend in the Bible, they would realize that this book is the Calvary of the Old Testament. They would see that the key to the sufferings of Job, and indeed to life itself, is the cross. They would realize that suffering, far from being something avoidable, is the very heartbeat of life, and the door to Heaven.
If you are interested, you can download the whole study of Job.
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