Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said:
I hate it when those close to me are facing hardship. Not just because I see them suffering, but because I often find myself struggling for the right thing to say. I often feel I have to say something, that the moment requires my encouragement.
When I look at the interaction of Job and his friends, I see at first what I struggle with. After sitting for days in silence, Job finally speaks. But what his friend’s hear is lamenting, they might have even said complaining. It becomes clear in Eliphaz’s initial words he felt Job was being impatient with God. His words in verse two of chapter four seem to indicate some hesitation to speak, thinking Job may respond to him the way Job has responded to God in his lament.
“If one ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
Yet who can keep from speaking?
Eliphaz takes time to do something I think is important to note. Before really diving into his reflection on Job’s circumstances, he commends Job for his influence and impact on the lives of others. Eliphaz speaks of how Job has encouraged, uplifted, and strengthened others when they have faced hardship. But now he is apparently crumbling in the midst of hardship of his own. Eliphaz sees his friend struggling to make sense of his circumstances, and angry at God. Despite the encouragement Job had offered others in their pain, he seemed unable to aid himself. What Eliphaz struggled to see at this moment was one who is suffering will often struggle to encourage themselves. Eliphaz missed an opportunity to offer the very encouragement Job needed, and instead began to rebuke him.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
In the midst of Job’s questions of God’s goodness, Eliphaz rebukes him for his apparent lack of faith. More than that though, Eliphaz saw the circumstances Job faced as potentially his own doing. Eliphaz’s theory in the next several verses indicates that those who remain righteous and holy don’t face calamity. Therefore, Job’s hardship must be because of Job’s own evil doings. You reap what you sow, thus Job is reaping calamity that he at some point has sown in life. The problem with this theory though is that it’s not entirely true.
All throughout Scripture we see righteous people face hardship. The truth is hardship finds the just and the unjust. Often, it seems as if those who don’t follow Jesus have a great life! Eliphaz rests his theory’s authority on his own extensive observations. The problem here is that his observations were personal, not universal. Nor does his authority trump God. While we can gain a great deal of wisdom and knowledge from our past experiences, our experiences will never hold authority over God’s truth.
I see myself in Eliphaz. And I think if most of us were honest, a lot of us would. His need to speak and seemingly correct his friend’s perspective of the situation is something I often struggle with. I know I would after sitting in silence for several days! But I think our desire and impulse to offer “advice” can often overshadow wisdom and discernment when it is needed most. My desire to speak words of wisdom cannot be greater than my dependence on the Spirit to lead me. Sometimes the best thing I can offer in my friend’s time of hardship is a silent presence. Sometimes it’s a prayer for peace and clarity. Sometimes it’s a meal, or helping get their kids around. Sometimes it’s doing a task that needs done, and they don’t have the strength to do it at the time it needs done.
Sometimes, supporting my friend in their hardship is keeping my mouth shut and allowing the Spirit to work.
The reality is I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always know why God allows the things He allows to happen in our lives. But I do know it’s for a purpose, that He would be glorified.
Eliphaz in this first exchange allowed his own personal thoughts, observations, and beliefs to fuel his response to Job, instead of relying on the wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit. It’s an area I need growth in, and I suspect many others are like me. When our friend is suffering, let’s first go to God for them in prayer. Let’s first raise them up to the Lord before speaking a word of “advice” to them. Let’s seek wisdom and discernment from the Lord, and trust Him. His truth is of greater authority than my experience. He has the big picture when I only see a drop of paint. Let’s learn and put into practice a valuable lesson from Eliphaz, that we allow and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in bringing comfort to those around us who are hurting.
True, just letting them know you’re there for them is often better than anything you might do to try to “fix” things. (It’s often not something that CAN be fixed.) Sometimes offering a hug, a shoulder to cry on – or crying with them – is letting them know they’re not alone, and that makes a huge difference.
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