The thoughts that bad comforters bring are not unique. Baseless accusations are well-known to the grieving. They regularly accuse themselves of the things that the most insensitive person might say. In the case of Job we have a man who was apparently unwilling to do this to himself. He would not let the wrong ideas of his accusers stand unchallenged. He spoke against the words of Eliphaz because he was unwilling to agree with a lie.
It is easy to be a bad critic. It is harder to build someone up in the right way. Job tells his accusers that there is a way for the good comforter to speak. Baseless accusations can inflict unjust wounds, but words of wisdom can be used to heal. Strengthening someone with your words is not an easy thing to do. Job is truly a wise and godly man. He could have used his lips to help a man in great need.
But now Job has been made tired and weary, not just by his friends, but by God and His providence. There is no friend who is able to bring the right words that would strengthen and bless him. Job sees his own condition, he looks at what he has lost, and he considers the way that others stare at him. He cannot help thinking that God is deeply against him.
What might a helpful healing word have been? Should we just affirm the horror of this situation? Will that actually help, or will it just encourage self-pity? Should we speak of how great a man Job truly is? That would be true, but it would be uncomfortable and he might not want to hear what we had to say. Should we offer a mild corrective, that surely God would not leave Job in this condition, and that there must be some other answer that we might never know or understand behind these sad assaults? “Job, please don’t allow yourself to conclude that God is ultimately against you. We don’t understand what has happened, but God hating you cannot be the solution to this mystery and misery.” Would that help? Would it be the right word given at the right time?
But what if the man we are trying to comfort is far wiser and more righteous than we are? What if the trial is so insanely severe, that no one could really know what to say? Job says that people are gaping at him with complete disrespect. Somebody hits him in the face. Now there is a whole crowd there, and they are all against him. The godly man is given up to the ungodly, but it is not just what men have done to him, since we are told that it is God who gives him over to the wicked.
Who is this man? What if this is real and not Job’s melancholy imagination? Who is this man that God breaks apart? God made him somehow to be the target of His wrath. He is brutally attacked, and in some way the Lord is behind it, but for what purpose? How could it be that God would send His wrath upon this good man? What could make sense of this story? It is not the fault of the victim. He did not do anything wrong. His prayer to God was pure, and yet this is happening to him.
There is something going on in this passage. The facts seem to match the story of a different suffering servant and not Job. We need a witness from heaven to explain this to us. Are we imagining what is not really there, or is it not Jesus who is being described in the wise words of Job? Is this part of the answer to all that Job faces? Is Job living out some gross miscarriage of justice that prepares us for the most complete satisfaction of the justice of God that would one day be accomplished for our sake, when the righteous one would suffer for the ungodly?
Let the story of that righteous blood be told as long as this age continues. Send us a witness from heaven to turn this horrible drama into good news. Send us someone who would have the right words for a situation in which our words might get us into trouble. The friends of Job could not possibly tell that story. But there is now a man at the right hand of the Father who knows this story best of all. He sends forth messengers of the truth who speak His word everywhere. We hear it and believe. Somehow everything begins to make sense. In just a little while we will be in the place of eternal life with Him, and despite the difficult sufferings that we have faced in this life that we cannot make sense of, on that day we will have the fullness of joy in knowing the Father and the Son.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
God Almighty, send forth Your Spirit as the best of all comforters. Give us a heart that is willing to receive Him. Surely You are not a foolish teacher like so many men. Father, we do not understand the providences that we face. Lead us into more helpful thinking. Teach us with words that heal. We know that the answer for us is with You, but we cannot always see that good way.