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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Helping / Not Helping

Job’s three friends came to help. Their purpose is explicitly stated: they came in order to “show him sympathy and comfort him”, and they probably traveled great distances to do it.

They all failed. In fact, they failed horribly. They made Job’s situation that much worse.

Some might make the argument it’s because they were men.

Men at Work

Hey, there might even be some truth to that. Men like to debate abstractions, and Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were not exceptional in that regard. Nothing wrong with that, but a suffering man doesn’t need philosophy. He needs empathy. (Okay, maybe we need ways of coping intellectually too, but that comes after a good breakfast, some rest, and the assurance that our boys have got our back.)

Men also like to fix things. Nothing wrong with that, but some things can’t be fixed, at least not by men. Job’s situation was one of those. It was beyond their scope.

Egos on Parade

Men also have notable egos. Once tweaked, we have trouble resisting responding in kind. When Eliphaz critiques Job’s lament, we find it tough to blame Job for firing back in kind:
“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away.”
Ouch. Eliphaz, in typically male fashion, escalates:
“Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge,
and fill his belly with the east wind?
Should he argue in unprofitable talk,
or in words with which he can do no good?
But you are doing away with the fear of God
and hindering meditation before God.”
Now we’re going nuclear. At this point we’re into one of those sorts of male contests that drives listening wives out of the room to commiserate with one another about their idiot husbands.

Not helping.

The Gift of Mercy

To be fair, not all of us are great at this stuff. Every Christian should be in the process of becoming more gracious, more sensitive, and more spiritually alert than when we first came to know the Lord. But not all of us start in the same place, and not all of us progress at the same rate. Perhaps that’s why the Holy Spirit has given the gift of mercy to some of his saints. Paul tells the Romans that merciful acts are to be performed with cheerfulness.

The Greek doesn’t shed much light here. There’s only one reference to this word [hilarot─ôs] in all the New Testament, and it is highly unlikely the most literal English equivalent (“hilarity”) is what’s intended. Nobody needs the class clown at their bedside, as anyone who’s ever been seriously afflicted will tell you. More likely it’s the secondary meaning of “readiness of mind” that’s in view: to be alert and prepared to respond quickly and graciously to any perceived need.

Mercy in Action

The merciful guy (or girl, more likely) is not the one making a speech at the bedside. She’s probably the one emptying the bedpan, adjusting the blinds so the sunlight doesn’t hit Job in the eyeballs, or changing the bed. On the other hand, I lived this once, and the most merciful person around was another guy. He was the one who clued in that my kids hadn’t eaten and made the necessary grocery run, giving them a little encouragement along the way. He was the one who noticed my pajama pants were falling down because I’d lost so much weight, and quietly came back with a couple of pairs that fit. He was the one who hung around for a week helping out at his own expense, slept on the floor, and crawled out of bed at 1 a.m. to run me back to the hospital, then sat exhausted with the drunks in Emerg for seven hours until I was actually attended to.

That’s mercy. And I don’t recall a single discussion with him about why I was sick and I what I could do to fix it. When he wasn’t doing something helpful, his mouth was glued shut.

Not that a conversation can’t be useful. But mercy first, discussion later. 

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