When we look, then, at the broader scope of Job's friends and include four, not three, men, we see a distinct difference in the way that these men were present with Job in his time of distress, and it's an important consideration for all of us who would call ourselves friends to anyone.
Three of Job's friends came in speaking. In fact, they couldn't really shut up. These men had a lot to say, and although they said some good things, they also said some harsh things. They defended God and slandered Job even though we can be sure that they had more first-hand relational experience with Job. Since they had been part of his life, they knew him well, and yet, they got lost in ideas rather than relationship.
Still, there's much to love about these guys. They were not wrong, per se, in what they had to say, at least about God, even if they were wrong in how they said some of the things that they said. They were doing what comes naturally to most of us - they were trying to reason themselves through the pain, trying to make sense out of the suffering. And they were trying to help. They really were. This is the natural default for most humans; we cannot bear both the silence and the unknowing, so we fill the silence with words.
And, as we've seen, when their words weren't working and they grew frustrated with their friend to the point that they decided to stop talking, they still stayed. They remained good friends, even smart friends, despite not being particularly wise friends.
Job's fourth friend, Elihu, came quietly. He came just to be present, without an agenda to speak. He was comfortable in the suffering, content to let it be and just be there with this man that he cared deeply about.
When it became apparent to Elihu that he needed to speak, he spoke, but he minded his words carefully. He owned his perspective, made it personal, and humbled himself even as he spoke boldly, saying the kinds of things that we wouldn't be willing to hear from just anyone, and yet, he made it palatable. Not only that, but his posture and his prose set the stage for God Himself to speak. He was a wise friend.
There is room in our lives for both good friends and wise friends; there are times when we are either good friends or wise friends. In the best of times, we have both; in the best of times, we are both. And the difference comes in how we approach the situation, how we enter in with those we care about.
But perhaps what makes the most difference of all is that we enter in in the first place. Good friends, smart friends, wise friends...are present friends. May we be present to those we care about.
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