It is stated that Job’s friends came to comfort him, to draw him out of his misery and to have compassion on him. If a person endures adversity and others come to serve that person and do what they can, but they have no compassion, all their work will simply serve to double the grief. If they are pastors who prove the suitability of their calling by inadvertently seeing the world through a dark pair of eyes, thus creating a world in which they have a superiority given to them by God to look after all these people who are in such need, then they will simply double the grief. There are people who are so pious that they are a pain in the neck and would not commend Christ to anybody. The only logical outcome of their intervention is that a person concludes ‘if that is Christianity, then I’ll have none of it’. And they would be right if that indeed were Christianity.
But if the person senses that those who have come have a regard for the misery as if it was their own misery, and they do not presume to gainsay God; they do not assume that the affliction is punishment for some grievous fault, then their work may be of some comfort. This is the true trial of love.
Job’s friends, however ill they may have carried it out, came with good purpose. They did not come simply to weep and to feel some part of the misery, but they came also with the intent of comforting Job, but they failed in their errand. They failed, because they did not look for the means to comfort Job that would have been agreeable to him. This is the mark that they should have shot at. They did not do so and, on the contrary, became as men amazed. How did that happen? Doubtless, they did not find anything to be offended at in the person of Job. Nevertheless, when they saw the extremity of Job’s affliction, they fell to the error of assuming ‘there’s always water where the turkey drowns’ and concluded that God would not have handled Job so sharply unless he really had been a castaway. And so they took such a conceit by reason of the excessive miseries in which they saw Job that they lost their direction in comforting him.
David also found himself afflicted, just like Job. He endured great adversities, as if he had been forsaken by God. David says of his ‘friends’ when they visited him, ‘Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad.’ Sadly, this sounds like the typical attitude that one should expect of those who have been trained in the pastorate by the standard evangelical and other theological seminaries, with the one difference; after having gathered the slander in their heart, they do not go out and ‘spread it abroad’, but rather, they believe that it is part of their calling to be able to ‘keep a secret’. They store up their own superiority in their own hearts. Except, that they do not really ‘keep a secret’ at all. Having been told in their lectures that it is the mark of a pastor to be able to ‘keep a secret’, they become a breed apart from those whom they imagine that they are serving. Then they disclose all these secrets during meetings with other pastors at dismal group seminars entitled ‘How to deal with problem people’. The title indicates exactly what they think of those whom they are serving. The effect, of course, is to create the pastorate as a breed apart, who are therefore incapable of sharing in a grief and making it their own.
Scripture indeed states
A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
and trustworthiness is indeed a necessary virtue for a Christian. But one has to ask oneself what information is supposed to come the way of a pastor in his role as a pastor, that he is obliged to keep a secret. If one listens to their discussions about ‘how to deal with problem people’, and one understands that these are ‘problem people’ within their congregations, and that the problems have nothing to do with points of theology, but rather with their own personal lives, one understands what they consider the job of the pastor to be. It becomes completely clear that whatever they are training their church men to deal with, it is not with Christian communities who are interested in hearing the Word of God. After some consideration the full extent of the evil becomes completely clear.
David, writing about his own adversity and his false friends writes in psalm 41,
Blessed is he who has regard for the afflicted;
the Lord delivers him in time of trouble.
The Lord will protect him and preserve his life;
he will bless him in the land
and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.
The Lord will sustain him on his sick – bed
and restore him from the bed of his illness.
I said, “O Lord, have mercy on me:
heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
Whenever one comes to see me,
he speaks falsely while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it abroad.
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has beset him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me.
But you, O Lord, have mercy on me;
raise me up, that I may repay them.
I know that you are pleased with me,
for my enemy does not triumph over me.
In my integrity, you uphold me
and set me in your presence for ever.
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.
David endured great adversity, in such a way that it looked as if he had been forsaken of God. But while people condemned David under the colour that God was persecuting him, David says ‘Blessed is he who has regard for the weak.’ From this, we see that if we see anybody in anguish as a result of hard adversities, God requires above all that we should not take such conceit as to say, ‘He is forsaken by God; God shows full well that he has purposed to cut him off. There is no hope for him. Behold, he is past recovery.’ We must have the wit to understand that God lays adversity on people for a number of reasons; God’s name is glorified when the patience of the faithful, which was before present but hidden, is demonstrated. Their patience is shown forth when they endure to the end the trials that God sends.
When we see that exactly the same trials befall both God’s faithful and also the castaways who will perish in their rebellion, we should understand that it is not for us to judge the matter. When God scourges people, although we do not perceive the cause, yet it becomes us to consider that God is righteous. We see, then, that afflictions hold for God’s children and also for the castaways; those who will not see eternal life. It is not for us to judge, except that God has told us that, ultimately, all things work to the good of those who love God. If we see that somebody is afflicted, we ought to acknowledge the hand of God and say, ‘Alas, I deserve as much, or more.’ Let us then advise ourselves to conclude, ‘Very well, I see this person is handled roughly. It is not for me to pass judgement on his sins before God. There is no difference. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; the wages of sin is death. We do not know what God will do with this person, but we do know that all things work to the good of those who love God.’ Behold the wisdom that David exhorts us to; we should wait. In fact, we are not guaranteed to see until the next life God’s deliverance of those whom he persecutes with his own hand. So let us learn to be fenced against all stumbling blocks that may come our way and let us not permit our imagination to deceive us. If we have a desire and zeal to be of comfort to our neighbours, we must desire that we are provided with wisdom from God that we may understand our own limitations so that we do not overshoot ourselves and that we may be possessed of the loving kindness to do good.
It must not be considered strange that Job’s friends were so astonished, considering the plight in which they found Job, for he was utterly disfigured, so much so that they could not recognise him at first sight, as the text states. Undoubtedly, they had such an affection for him rooted in their hearts that when they saw him so miserable, yet they could not cease to show that they loved him still. It is therefore stated ‘They lifted up their voices and wept.’ These tears were not counterfeit; they sprang from a genuine affection for Job.
Next, it is stated, ‘They tore their garments and cast dust upon their heads and cast themselves on the ground. They remained seven days and seven nights without speaking any word.’ We now see not only the compassion that they had, but also that they intended to humble themselves with Job, as if to make intercession to God that God may have pity on Job. For when in old times men cast dust upon their heads, it was a token of humility and an acknowledgement of their own sins. It put them in mind of their own sinfulness and to think of what they have forgotten; it put them in mind to recognise that by rights they are nothing but rottenness before God. Men of old times used such a ceremony to yield themselves before God, acknowledging their sins and sinful nature as though they had been wretched offenders. God requires at the hands of offenders that they should acknowledge their faults, crave pardon, yield themselves guilty before God and return to him with true repentance. Job had good occasion to do so and his friends also could not show their friendship if they did not do likewise, for we are bound to take upon ourselves the person of our neighbours, if we are to ask forgiveness on their behalf. The greatest relief that we can give to those who are in distress is to pray to God that he will look after them and remember his promise that all thing work to the good of those who love him. But our prayers can only bring comfort to those in adversity if we humble ourselves before God and consider the affliction as if it was our own.
David protests that he even prayed for his enemies. When he saw them running to their destruction, he was sorry for them in his heart and shed bitter tears and sighs for them.
Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
and leave my soul forlorn.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
attackers gathered against me when I was unaware.
They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
they gnashed their teeth at me.
O Lord, how long will you look on?
Rescue my life from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
If David did this even for his enemies that persecuted him, why should we not do this for those who profess to be the children of God and who live according to their profession? Certainly, we ought to follow David in praying for our enemies. For unless we do this, Christ will not allow us to be his disciples. By a similar token, we are guilty of very great sin if we do not have care for those in whom we perceive some sign of godliness and desire to obey God, even if they do not hold entirely to the same doctrines as our own.