Friends who share our plight
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.
They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.
And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Three men “of wealth and worth” (cf. Ellison, A Study of Job) “were not ashamed to associate with the outcast on the rubbish mound.” Yet they could hardly believe their eyes. Even from a distance, Job looked as horrible as he felt. Commendably, they too shredded their garments of distinction, and genuinely “wept with those who weep” (cf. Romans 12:15). They joined Job in his self-abasement, sitting (no doubt) uncomfortably on the ground for the recognized period of mourning for the dead (“7 days and 7 nights,” Genesis 50:10, 1 Samuel 31:13).
And, they sat in silence, offering nothing more, but nothing less than, the ministry of presence.
Those who have traversed the rough terrain of pain know that what is most needed from comforting friends is not words. Words evaporate, like so much campfire smoke. What brings grace is presence, a willingness to sit and share the grief, so that none are overwhelmed by it while making a path through it. Job’s friends did not speak even a word to him for all of 170 hours “for they saw that his suffering was great.” They understood, at least initially, that even well-meaning words may crescendo the suffering rather than relieve it.
Mother Teresa, for years an angel to the outcast lepers, said, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired” (in No Greater Love).