When friends are grieving, it is hard to know what to do or not to do. Even if you have grieved before.
Job lost almost everything. Eliphaz and Bildad (Job’s friends) wisely started by sitting silently with their friend for seven days. They gave Job credit for being wise and helping others before his losses hit his life.
However, they, then, resorted to accusing him of not fearing God (15:4), being prideful (15:9) and even mocked his pain and the sounds of his trauma (15:20-21). They did not let him be honest and real in his grief.
The most damaging part: They wrongly believed that all blessings were caused by obedience and tragedy was caused by sin. Thus, they failed to hear Job and lacked empathy.
A third friend emerged and attacked Job on a new level. Zophar accused him of being guilty and unrepentant. He told Job that he should have had wisdom and to devote his heart to God, to pray for forgiveness, and to put sin far away.
Interestingly, even though Zophar was wrong about Job, there was truth about sin in what he said: if there is sin, changing is the correct answer. Stop what we are doing, examine our hearts, go before God, identify and turn away from sin, and recognize patterns to try to grow.
In fact, Psalm 51 is a good guide for repentance. David had sinned with Bathsheba and we see his remorse. He appealed to God’s mercy (v. 1-2), he did not make excuses for his sinful behavior (v. 3-4), his desires changed and he wanted purity in thought and deed (v. 6), and lastly this led to praising God for the freedom he experienced after confessing (v. 14-17). When we confess, we can repent without regret, earnestly and eagerly clearing ourselves, hating the sin, longing for restoration and desiring justice (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Repentance is a good thing.
The problem was: Job’s problems were not due to sin. Job is the ultimate example of dramatic irony. The reader knows something that the characters do not and we know that Job’s sin did not cause his losses, but his friends did not know this. And, this is life. Sometimes tragedies are due to sin, sometimes not.
So, we need to be careful as friends, seeking much discernment: being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”(Matt. 10:16). But, the insightful friend looks at 1 Thess. 5:14 (And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all) and asks: is a person dealing with sin or are they fainthearted and weak? If fainthearted and weak: comfort, help, encourage, be patient.
Humble people have shared their stories and failures and hardships to comfort and encourage me and have listened for hours on end. This vulnerability has brought tremendous help.