Job’s counselors mistakenly thought they could discern the purposes of God in Job’s experience. Their errant conclusions led to erroneous counsel. If nothing else, the book of Job reminds us that the ways of God in any given situation are largely inscrutable. As the Lord shows Job when He appears in the whirlwind, our minds cannot put together all the pieces of the puzzle of God’s providential workings in this world. That is why we, like Job, must respond with humility and trust.
One pearl of wisdom from my father is indelibly imprinted in my memory. “Son,” he said, “I can’t change mistakes I’ve made in life, but there’s no reason for you to repeat them. If you learn nothing else from me, learn from my mistakes.” Those words come to mind when reflecting on the failure of Job’s friends.
Upon hearing of the calamities that crushed Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar traveled from their respective towns “to sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). After silently mourning for seven days with Job, they spoke and things took an unfortunate turn. Job’s assessment of their counsel was blunt: “Miserable comforters are you all!” (Job 16:2). He then dismissed them with withering words: “So how dare you give me empty comfort? For your answers remain nothing but falsehood!” (Job 21:34).
How did things go south so quickly? How could these men turn on their friend they intended to comfort? These friends of Job made four key errors—mistakes we should strive to avoid.
They lost track of their purpose.
This trio came with generous empathy for their suffering friend. Horrified at the initial sight of Job, they sat with him in silence for seven days. Watching him scrape his boils with potsherd and hearing his moans through sleepless nights must have been unnerving. Understandably, they were haunted by a question: Why? Why was this righteous man suffering severely? So, they sought to understand the reason behind it all. They lost themselves in their own heads and failed to remember why they were there. Ultimately, their illogical reasoning turned them from compassionate companions to aggressive accusers.
Sitting with sufferers is hard. If we are not careful, we can forget our role and bring added hurt rather than help. Job did not need theological debate, he needed comfort. His friends failed him because they lost track of their purpose for being there.