Job’s friends are an example of what not to do when friends are suffering. What can we learn from them about how to pray for those we love?
Those of you who know the story of Job, the righteous man God bragged about to Satan, will remember that God gave Satan license to afflict Job. Job lost his possessions and his health. His seven sons and three daughters, for whom he had interceded daily, pleading their cases before God as a defense attorney might plead their cases in court, were killed in a freakish windstorm (see Job 1:18-19).
His wife lost her confidence in the Lord and any respect she had for her husband. She eventually encouraged him to forget his integrity, to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
But one of the greatest losses to Job was the loss of relationships. Job’s friends became a burden rather than a blessing. Those who should have been sensitive to his need and supportive in their actions during his time of trial only added to his burden. Interestingly, each of them represents a type of friend no one wants when going through trial.
Let’s look at Job’s friends. Perhaps in them we will learn the behaviors to avoid when our friends are suffering trials. We can develop an earnest desire to become effective prayer advocates when others have walked away.
Job’s Religious Friend
When Job needed loving, practical friends to assist and support him in his hour of need, his friend Eliphaz decided to be “super-spiritual” instead. He took it upon himself to bring correction to Job:
“Job, I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, but I’d like to have a word with you. You’ve offered counsel and encouragement to lots of troubled people in the past. And you’ve been the first to support those who have stumbled.
“But now it’s obvious you’re discouraged regarding the trouble that has come to you. I know you think you’re a righteous man. But let me ask you a question: When have you ever heard of an innocent man being destroyed?” (adapted from Job 4:2-7).
Eliphaz was out of touch with the reality of Job’s intense suffering. The unsettling truth about friends who manifest the “I can hear God better than you” syndrome is that many of them have never personally experienced a genuine breaking from God. People with a religious spirit speak out of their soulishness and not from true brokenness.
Job didn’t need religion. He needed relationship. He needed a listening ear, not a sermon. Job needed an intercessor, not an instructor. Eliphaz thought he was serving God, when in fact he was an unknowing pawn of Satan. When called to the witness stand to defend Job, he became a star witness for the prosecution instead.
When we are suffering, may God deliver us from religious friends. Decide right now that when your friends are suffering, you will relate to them with compassion and empathy.
Bildad, Job’s Idealistic Friend
An idealist is defined as “one who adheres to philosophical theories of perfection and excellence and concepts of flawless morality.” This may sound good, but real life isn’t quite this pristine.
When suffering life’s trials, we need neither religious, holier-than-thou friends to scold us nor idealistic friends to rebuke us. Hearing Job’s explanation, Bildad replied: “Job, what you are saying about your situation is nothing but ‘hot air.’
“God doesn’t pervert justice. You know your children died because of their sin. So, I think it’s high time that you plead with God for your own life. If you are the righteous man you think you are, He will restore your health and other losses. If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that God won’t reject the righteous or bless the wicked” (adapted from Job 8:1-7).
Many Christians today have overlooked the powerful process of suffering and trials that God has designed to produce godliness in each of our lives. Let’s not forget that Timothy says, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12, KJV).
If we overlook that process, when suffering befalls our friends, we are apt to assume it is God’s judgment for sin. When trouble befalls us, we are apt to be totally confused (see 1 Pet. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 1:3-10; 2:9; James 1:2-4 for the purpose of suffering).
Sometimes God, for His own reasons, allows an idealistic friend to add to our test. At times we all need false and idealistic concepts to be broken. Perhaps through an idealistic friend we can see our blindness and resolve to fully surrender our hearts to God (see Ps. 51:17).
Zophar, Job’s Legalistic Friend
A person who lives a life of legalism adheres to a literal and excessively religious moral code. The New Testament Pharisees were the legalists of their day. They monitored themselves and others by the Levitical law. Yet Jesus reprimanded them for neglecting “the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23, NIV).
No doubt the whole spirit of their religion was summed up in self-righteousness, not in confession of sin or humility. This was the kind of friend Job had in Zophar, the legalist!