Reflection: Beware the 'Friends of Job'. Follow the Lord Who Never Sleeps Nor Slumbers
translated "compassion" mean "to suffer with".
They had no interest in entering into Jobs pain but in blaming him and his behavior for it. After all, they had this whole faith thing "figured out" and they were going to enlighten him with their higher knowledge. Sound familiar? Perhaps in contemporary circles they would have given him the "latest" teaching from their superstar pastor or the new speaker making the circuit who had it all figured out, along with some formulaic use of bible texts to prove their point.
Or, perhaps they would have given him the latest popular book from the local Christian book store promising that if he just followed these seven, or eight or even twelve steps. all the pain would go away. After all, Jobs life was a mess, right? He was "obviously" not really living for God or he would not be suffering or abandoned. Right? Wrong!
These "wearisome comforters" (Job 16:2-4), as Job later calls them, reveal their true agendas in their errant assessment of Jobs suffering and their false recommendations for his deliverance from them. They think they have the "answer" for life's deepest mystery, suffering. They do not. No one does. In their counterfeit "answers" we find the greatest dangers to authentic faith. These false teachings are still wreaking havoc in too many lives.
In response to their long winded discourse, Job tells them all to be to be silent because they are "uttering falsehoods" and offering "vain remedies". So, in our day, the self appointed guardians of "the formulas" are still wrong. Oh, for the voice of a Job in some of our contemporary Christian communities. Enough of the formulas, the claims to hidden "knowledge" (a new form of Gnosticism) and the claims of being able to manipulate the power of God to achieve our own ends (a new kind of simony). The byways are filled with wounded people who have suffered as a result of such poor teaching.
Let's look at their explanations of Jobs difficulties for a moment. I know they will sound familiar to you. Elephaz the Temanite tells Job that God is mad at Him (Job 5). Bildad the Shuhite tells Job that his misfortunes are his own fault. (Job 8). Finally, Zophar the Naamathite tells Job that he is being punished. (Job 11). All of them were wrong then. and their spiritual descendants are just as wrong today.
Job was right. In fact, he was living in the heart of God's will. When Job was stripped of what his "friends" believed were the "proofs" of Gods favor, he found the greatest treasure of all, the beautiful poverty of purified Love. He found the richness reserved for those who love God for God's sake. Jobs "friends" told him that his loss and difficulties were his fault, but Job knew better. In his unwavering hope in Gods love and mercy we find the way of purified faith.
The Lord not only heard the prayer of this faithful servant Job but He also spoke to these "friends of Job" in these words addressed to Elephaz the Temanite: "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."
In sincere contrition, Job acknowledged in a profound dialogue with God that he simply did not understand His mind on these kinds of matters. He repented for his lack of trust and interceded for these "friends" who had wrongly accused him (Job 42:8). After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord again made him prosperous. Oh, there was quite an encounter between Job and the Lord. It is well worth reading.
Job showed his humility and the Lord restored him after strongly, but lovingly, instructing him. His brothers, sisters and those who knew him before the struggles came and dined with him. The Lord gave him double what he had lost; fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. He had seven sons, three daughters and lived a hundred and forty years. He saw his children and his grandchildren to the fourth generation.
The greatest gift that God gave to Job was real, purified faith. God answered Jobs' sincere, heartfelt prayer for insight into his struggles when He spoke to him "out of a storm" (Job 38). That's right, God was right there in that storm! He always is. He always turns the difficulties, struggles, pain, betrayals, loss..in each of our lives to "good", as St Paul would centuries later remind the early Christians (Romans 8:28).
This stormy encounter between Job and God is reminiscent of another storm, the one we read about in the New Testament on the Sea of Galilee. There, the disciples were with God Incarnate, Jesus Christ in a boat (Matthew 8: 23-27). He was asleep. Terrified, they woke Him and He calmed the storm. In His sacred humanity, asleep in that boat, he showed them an important truth they would later come to grasp as they lived their lives as witnesses for Jesus Christ.
He was already there, right in the storm, they just needed to trust and rest in Him. In Jesus Christ, this God of Job came among us in the flesh. In His sacred humanity He reveals the way to live free of fear, even in the midst of the struggles and storms of life. He emptied Himself out of perfect love for the whole human race. He seeks men and women who will love in that same way, following Him. He calls them the "poor in spirit" and gives them His kingdom. These are the ones who really know how to love and how to live. They do not love for a return but love for Loves' sake.
Job did not follow God because He was so good to him, but because he is God. So should we. When we encounter the inevitability of loss, suffering, difficulties and persecution in our lives, as we certainly will, we must always beware of the friends of Job. We must also choose to follow the One who never sleeps nor slumbers.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Job, suffering, struggle, prosperity, povery, spirituality, hersy, health and wealth, Deacon Keith Fournier
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