Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Crying With Those Who Cry

When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him. When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky. They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.  Job 2:11-13 CEB

Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. - Romans 12:15 CEB

The parable of Job is an interesting one. It deals with the complex situation of suffering and grief. The age old existential question, "Why does a good God allow suffering?" comes to play here.

I could give an answer to that, but it won't solve anything. God doesn't give an answer to Job, either.

So, I don't want to talk about the suffering question. I want to talk about his friends. Job had 3 friends who came to be with him after they heard about his misfortune. Scholars, theologians, and lay people have always come down hard on these 3 friends. However, I would like to praise them for one thing they did:  They came to be with him and share in his suffering.

Sometimes that's all that a grieving person needs:  the presence and comfort of a friend. They don't need any platitudes, any trite sayings. They want to know that they are not alone.

In 2003, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage of our child. It was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever gone through. My wife blamed herself (even though it wasn't her fault). She would grieve every additional month she wasn't pregnant. She would be furious at every pregnant woman she saw walking the street who was smoking. I suffered in silence. I tried calling my friends in the United States, but got no support. (I lived in Germany at the time.)

People would ask me how my wife was doing. They would never ask me how I was doing, as if the miscarriage didn't happen to me, too. The people at our corps (congregation) did not know what to do. So they resorted to the familiar platitudes, "You'll have another baby some day." "You're still young!"

Probably the worst thing that happened was when we received a condolence card from a retired Salvation Army officer. Interestingly enough, he quoted from Job, too. He wrote, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Unfortunately it seems he has been taking a lot from you lately." When my wife read that, it just sank her into a deeper depression. I was furious. How could someone be so callous as to say that to my wife?

The three friends of Job helped him out the best when they said nothing at all. Everything else was ruined when they opened their mouths and tried to explain the suffering away.

We do not need the suffering to be explained. In fact, this is the lesson I learn from Job. What we need is God at our side and the companionship of our friends and family. We can apply this advice from Paul:  "Cry with those who are crying."

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