Job, even at the depths of his trouble, was a man with friends. Three friends, we most often say, although that's not quite accurate (we'll get to that later this week, perhaps). And in his distress, his friends come to comfort him, to be with him and to tell him what they know about the Lord and about trouble. But after his friends have spoken for awhile, and after Job has persisted in his integrity, something interesting happens.
His friends stop speaking to him.
Job 32 says that Job was so convinced that he was right and so arrogant about it that his friends stopped trying to comfort him and shut up.
Most of us, knowing Job's righteousness and being privy to the encounter between the Lord and Satan that sets Job up for all he is experiencing, breathe a sigh of relief at this point. Finally! His friends are going to stop trying to convince him of something that isn't true.
But here's the thing: Job's friends have actually said a lot of very true things. The things they've said about God, the things they've said about His character, are true things. They really do understand the heart of the Lord, even if there is more going on in this situation than they are able to see or know. They have suggested some things about their friend that are not quite accurate, but their view of the just Lord is actually pretty good.
It's for this reason that it's a shame they decide to stop speaking. Because at this point, Job needs all the reminders he can get of who God is, though he doesn't seem to have forgotten it.
In full disclosure, of course, he didn't seem to care and wasn't really hearing it.
This raises a couple of important points for us, both from Job and from his friends. First, we would all be so fortunate to have such friends in our lives. We need persons around us who can speak truth. And even if they don't get all the details right, even if they don't know the whole story, even if there are things we can be sure of that they are less confident in, we need persons around us who can tell us the truth about God, no matter what our circumstances. Because we are always - always - in need of hearing the truth about God.
But we must learn from Job here, too, because this righteous man - and yes, he was righteous - discouraged his friends so much that they stopped speaking even this truth to him. In fact, they stopped speaking at all. And what we have is no longer a true friendship if we do not permit our friends to speak into our lives.
It was Job's insistence of his own righteousness, which came off as arrogance, that shut them up. Not because he was right and they were wrong or because he was wrong and they were right. Not because he had more information than they did. No, it was the attitude with which he approached their speech, and we are susceptible to this very attitude whether we are right or wrong, knowing or unknowing.
All it would have taken, I think, for Job to preserve the lines of communication was a little more humility in posture. All it would have taken would have been for him at one or two points to say, "Yes, friends, I hear you, and you are right about God." He could or could not have added that they were wrong about him, but he needed to give credit where credit was due. He needed to at least acknowledge that he heard them when they spoke.
Instead, he spends his entire time refuting them and grumbling against the God they have very well articulated, saying that God's not really like that at all and he's not really like that and this whole situation is not really like that. It's enough to make anyone shut up.
And we...are experts at it.
We're so good at this. We're so good at shutting even our friends down so that no one has any right, let alone any interest, any more in speaking into our lives. We refute. We deny. We reject. We grumble. And then our friends don't feel like they're really friends any more because we're not even listening to them. And then...and then...we wallow. Oh, woe is we, for we are in such misery with not even a friend to draw near us. Though, in fact, we have chased them all away.
It just takes a word or two, just one little acknowledgement, to let your friends know you're their friend, too. To let them know that you're listening to them and that their presence, and their voice, matter to you. All it takes is to say, "Yes, I hear you." Maybe there's a "but;" maybe there's not. But Job never tells his friends that he's even listening, and that's a shame because it means they stop speaking. It would be very easy at this point for him to lose them entirely as friends.
Thankfully for him, and for us, his friends are true friends and they're better than that. But not all of them are.
Who do you have that can speak into your life? Who do you have that you give permission to speak into your life? And have you let them know lately that you're hearing them? Or have you shut them up in your arrogance?