In trouble like this I need loyal friends – whether I’ve forsaken God or not. But you, my friends, you deceive me like streams that go dry when no rain comes. [Job 6:14-15 (GNT)]
My closest friends look at me with disgust; those I loved most have turned against me. [Job 19:19 (GNT)]
Job was enduring unbearable suffering; surely he could count on his friends for some support! His friends came to him but, instead of the compassion and encouragement that Job needed, they opened their mouths and began to criticize the poor man. They immediately assumed the worst of their friend. It was all Job’s fault; God was angry with him and punishing him for his sins! Surely, Job’s past behavior hadn’t given his friends reason to suspect him of sinfulness; in fact, Job is described as a “blameless” man—a man of “complete integrity.” His friends, however, were quick to believe the worst of him. They became accusers instead of comforters and judges instead of supportive friends. Granted, there are a few nuggets of Biblical truth hidden in their long accusing speeches but Job needed sympathy and reassurance rather than theological arguments.
Friends like Job’s aren’t the kind we need in a crisis. They are the people in the basements of our lives: the ones who jeer and yell catcalls. Instead of helping us up, they kick us when we’re down and may even delight in our failings. Nevertheless, we tend to keep basement friends around, probably because they often praise us when we don’t live up to our potential and offer encouragement when we’re on the wrong path. They frequently tempt us or distract us from God’s plan. They may be interesting and fun, but they’re of little use when trouble hits.
Job needed a cheering section, not a jeering section. He needed friends who would lift him when he was down and strengthen him in his weakness. We all need friends in the bleachers of our lives who will cheer for us. Good friends, however, do more than encourage us. While they see our potential for greatness and offer praise, they also tell us the truth. They can be trusted to give us an honest critique of our conduct. Tactfully (and with love), they will tell us when our behavior is inadequate or unacceptable and they’ll hold us accountable. Most important, unlike Job’s friends, good friends know how to sit silently with us in our sorrow, affliction and even shame. They’ll hold our hands, wipe our tears, and pray with and for us. A good friend will help us find strength in our weakness and hope in our despair.
Lord, guide us in our friendships. Lead us to befriend the people who will make us better and show us how to be the kind of friends who, in turn, will bring out the best in others.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. [Henri Nouwen]