Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.Job 2:11-13, NRSV
I cannot read Job these days without wondering if white churchgoers are Job’s friends.
Becoming aware of suffering, setting out with good intentions to console and comfort.
Loss, injustice, brutality, disproportionately levied against our Black and Brown neighbors.
Unsure of what to do, our silent solidarity turns to silence. Or worse.
Does God see Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar in our initial distress turning to silent bystanding?
In our sitting for days and nights without speaking a word?
Without moving to ameliorate or defend?
In our thoughts turning from dismay to evasion and pontification?
In our blaming, “if they had not looked wrong, done wrong, moved wrong, this would not have happened,”
Does God hear Eliphaz telling Job, “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.”
We soothe our own discomfort.
Our self-assured innocence will protect us while claiming their outcome imputes guilt.
In our justifying, “We also experience violence and hardship. Your suffering is not worse, not systemic, not disproportionate,”
Does God hear Bildad arrogantly claiming, “Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children sinned against him,
he delivered them into the power of their transgression.
If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place.”
We convince ourselves that people get what they deserve, thus absolving us of responsibility to comfort and protect.
We claim only the first and last words of “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In our our appeals to higher authority, conflating man-made systems with God’s will, in our insisting “God is in control, things are as God wants,”
Does God hear Zophar telling Job,
“Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.
Can you find out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
If he passes through, and imprisons,
and assembles for judgment, who can hinder him?
For he knows those who are worthless;
when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?”
We refuse to question inherited beliefs, structures, lies.
Law and order is God’s design, right? Who are we to interfere?
Daily we hear the echo of Job’s words, “Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice.”
There is no safe walking,
no safe sleeping,
no safe driving,
no safe breathing.
Rage and grief spill over,
cars on fire,
What does God think when, with Eliphaz, we respond,
“What do you know that we do not know?
What do you understand that is not clear to us?
The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, those older than your father. Are the consolations of God too small for you?”
We look only at outlier symptoms, ignoring the roots of oppression and pain growing for generations.
What will we reap for our continued blaming, denying, justifying?
God had words for Eliphaz and his friends:
“My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends;
for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
Now…my servant Job shall pray for you,
for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly;
for you have not spoken of me what is right,
as my servant Job has done.”
Let us put aside this folly of blaming our neighbors for their suffering.
Let us see our own complicity.
Let us listen and learn and be humble.
Let us speak the words that are right.
Let us take the actions that are right.
Let us work for restoration and be a blessing to each other.
Note: all quotes from Job are NRSV