Friends like Job’s

Recently I heard a theologian talking about Job and was not surprised to hear him refer to Job’s “so-called friends”. Not surprised perhaps, but as usual when I hear this common sentiment, I was uncomfortable with it. Were Job’s friends there to give him a hard time? Were they there just so they could make him feel worse? Did they offer him their dire diagnosis of the cause for Job’s travail through condescending self-righteousness?

I’m not going to say that there was none of that attitude in what they said. I do think, however, that we can make the following observations:

  1. The text plainly calls Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar Job’s “friends”.
  2. They sat with him and shared his grief for a week’s time.
  3. They didn’t simply tell him why they thought God had it in for him, but offered a solution (repentance) to extract him from further judgement. When Job was insistent that he had done nothing to repent for, they became even more determined that he do what they felt was necessary to avoid more of God’s judgment.
  4. Job thought enough of them to pray for God to forgive them their incorrect counsel.


God told the friends that He should punish them because they didn’t speak as accurately about Him as Job did. They certainly had a high view of God’s justice; given the option of whether God’s character (as One Who rewards justly) or their righteous friend Job’s character was deficient, they ruled in favor of God’s character. Where exactly they were wrong in their analysis has never been clearly understood. But interestingly, God reprimanded them and held them accountable for their erroneous beliefs despite their good intentions and high view of His character. Regardless of the fact that they were wrong in their counsel to Job, I think it’s clear that they were not “so-called” friends, and that their comfort wasn’t false comfort. One of the reasons so many people think of Job’s friends as sorry company is because they don’t understand the importance of this type of comfort. We tend to think of comfort as nodding with pained looks on our faces, as affirmation of the emotions felt by the sufferer. We might add a little advice with sugar on top, but we definitely tend to make a wide berth around making them feel worse, even at the expense of offering solutions. In our grief, we don’t want to hear advice, we want our loved ones to just be there; here again, Job’s friends pass this test of friendship with flying colors. But there comes a time when solutions are requested and needed. And when this time came, Job’s friends didn’t mess around. See, true friends pull no punches. In fact, I wish I had a few more friends like Job’s. This goes for more than just times of sorrow. I value above all the type of friend who doesn’t just smile and nod when he thinks I’m wrong in some belief of mine, but cares enough about me and the truth (since both these things are concerns of God, too) that he tries to correct my thinking. I need friends I can open and honestly disagree with and who will do the same with me. It’s not hard to get along with friends you agree with on most things; it’s easy enough to avoid or deny areas of conflicting beliefs. Yet as I grow older, I crave the kind of friend to whom I can pour out my deepest thoughts and emotions and who can tell me when he thinks I’m full of crap. Because, you know, I am sometimes. As I learn how wrong I can really be, I have found that I am less likely than I used to be to get upset that someone thinks I’m wrong or making wrong choices. The inimitable Mark Heard expressed a similar ideal in his song, “What Kind of Friend”:

What kind of friend would tell you lies

To spare you from the bitter truth?

What kind of friend could stoop so low

As to shield your eyes from the mirror’s gaze?

What kind of friends do friends become

When a blind eye turns on the damage done?

What kind of friend could I become?

What kind of friend am I?

Friends, keep me honest. Don’t be afraid to argue with me, especially when I am the most adamant. And if I do so with you, please recognize that I am only doing as I would be done by and it doesn’t mean that I think less of you.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” — Proverbs 27:6

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