(Scripture references from NLT)
Friends and solid friendships are truly critical to us. People without friends are more likely to die an early death. If you doubt that just Google “can you die of loneliness” and see what it says. I believe it is the rare person that does not want and/or have friends. I also believe that we have different levels of friendship and that we need them all.
We have those that are more casual that we only see or talk with occasionally – an acquaintance – as the dictionary defines it: “a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.” Sometimes that acquaintance is a work friend, sometimes a neighbor or sometimes someone you associate with only on rare social occasions.
Then some of us will have that friend that is substantially opposite of us – that can be difficult when you have the typical pack mentality (you want only to “attack” those that are different than you in any number of ways.) But, having someone in your life that does not think exactly like you can be very positive – they can open your eyes to other possibilities – which you may or may not adopt but should at least consider. I have one such friend that I think of immediately. We have laughed about how a Yankee, Jewish, Liberal Democrat and a Southern, Christian, Conservative Republican can even begin to be friends; but, it is based on mutual respect and it has worked for close to 20 years.
Having someone as a friend that you view as a mentor can often challenge you to better yourself – help you to be a better you.
One of the more difficult is the friend that can and will be totally honest with you, no matter how badly it makes you feel. They care enough about you to tell you the 100% truth and hopefully help you see matters in a more realistic and healthy way.
Then there is the best friend – those that are loyal to the very end no matter what. They know all the good, the bad and the ugly from your life and love you anyway, never judging. You have full trust and can talk about anything and everything and know they will be there for you.
We have all heard that saying (or something similar) “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” I believe at one time or another we have all had friends that have stabbed us in the back. It hurts when you have people you care for and trust inflict emotional wounds. The fact is we ourselves have all probably been one of “those” friends at some point in our lives – possibly unintentional, maybe very intentionally.
When I was still in high school, my Mom used to warn me that I trusted people too much and that I was setting myself up to be hurt. I have been fortunate that I have not had an overload of those kinds of hurtful/mean friends; but, I have had my fair share of them over the years. In fact, in just the last three to four years I have had 2 or 3 friends turn on me for what seemed to me to be really nonsensical reasons. There was a time when it would have wounded me badly to have close friends turn their back on me. But I have reached a point in my life now that I have learned to just move on. I prefer to have people in my life that want to be there that can accept me warts and all – as in those famous words of Charlie Brown (Charles Schultz) “I don’t have time to worry about who doesn’t like me..I’m too busy loving the people who love me.” That is the kind of friend I try to be to others – loving them regardless.
So what kind of friend are you to others? Are you faithful, loyal and loving regardless of how they talk and act? Do you offer them support and encouragement when they need it? Or, are you more of a “Job-ish” type of friend?
I believe that most of us know the story of Job. As the book opens, the introduction says – “There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless – a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (Job 1:1) Does that not almost sound like the beginnings of a fairy tale? Well, it is a “fairy tale” that I do not believe any of us would want to live.
In verse 8 we discover where the author of the book got his opening line – when we read what God thinks of Job. He points out to Satan “’Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.’”
What transpires after that is impossible for my small human brain to comprehend. Why would God give Satan permission to test Job – especially in such horrendous ways? When God touts Job’s excellent standing Satan states that it is only because God protects him and prospers him; and, if that is taken away, he will then curse God. So Satan is given permission to test him in all ways but physically.
Then things in Job’s life take a turn. First all his oxen and donkeys are stolen and the farmhands killed. Before the first messenger is finished with that story, another messenger arrives and tells Job that fire from heaven struck and killed all his sheep and the shepherds. Again, while that second message is being delivered a third messenger arrives to tell Job that all his camels were stolen and the servants tending them murdered. The worst message of all was then delivered by the fourth messenger – a wind blew in so powerful that the home of his son where all 10 of his children were gathered collapsed and killed them all. Job did not even have time to catch his breath between the catastrophes going on around him. But we are told that although Job was grieving, he did not speak a bad word and began to praise and worship God.
God and Satan then have another conversation with God pointing out Job’s integrity even though so much was taken from him. With that, Satan proclaims that if he was to lose his health he would then surely turn against God and curse him. So God granted Satan permission to test Job again and he was struck with terrible boils all over his body. When this happened, even Job’s wife turned on him. Verse 9 says “His wife said to him, ‘Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.’” Wow!!
Three of Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) heard about his problems and traveled to him – their intentions were to “comfort and console him.” (Job 3:11c) After they arrived, they sat and just grieved with him for seven days – none of them saying a word. But then Job broke the silence, indulging in an understandable pity party. He expresses his discouragement, not understanding why these things would happen to him and he cries out to God pleading for relief.
Then his friends, each in turn, start pointing fingers, making outrageous accusations – about how Job lived his life and his behaviors. After each of them spoke Job would contradict their claims. One of their consistent claims was that only good and righteous men prosper and that only the wicked suffer. But Job did not agree with that and said such, upsetting his friends that much more.
In chapter 12 Job responds to the criticisms of his friends by pointing out that they are no better than him, no matter how they try to paint it. He defends himself and only wants God to show him what he has done to be deserving of his circumstances. He questions why they chose to crush him with their words rather than attempt to help and encourage him – which seems a very reasonable expectation to me.
His friends each in turn take 3 relentless swipes at him – not letting up at all. Then starting in chapter 32 a fourth man (Elihu) enters the fray. He has apparently been there to hear all of the accusations flying about and when he speaks up, he is not as unkind as the other three men, but he does point out to Job the error of some of the things he has said regarding God and his own role in the current situation.
Job did question God and why He would allow this to happen to him. So much so that when God does finally speak to Job, He lays it all out in black and white, using question after question, He reminds Job that He, not Job, is the one that runs things and is large and in charge. Job then repents and gains God’s favor once again. God builds Job up emotionally then humiliates his friends for their treatment of Job. God chastises the “friends” and makes them take sacrifices to Job for burnt offerings and has Job pray for them, instead of He Himself meting out the punishment they really deserved.
After Job accepted their sacrifices and interceded for them with prayer, his situation began turning around almost immediately. He was granted double what he had previously had and ended up living a very long and prosperous life.
We have no idea the span of time for all of this – how long Job suffered, how long he had to endure the hatefulness of his so-called friends. We do know that it went on long enough though that physically he became skin and bones (chapter 19.) Chapters 30 & 31 tell us that he was in constant pain, could not sleep, had trouble breathing and had a constant fever, not to mention being covered in sores that had turned black and were peeling. But no matter how long it actually was, it had to feel like an eternity to him with all of those symptoms. And his friends? No help whatsoever!
Lesson number one to be learned from Job is that although he was blameless and innocent, he was NOT sinless. He complained, he expressed anger and resentment and was argumentative. With the condition of his life, those responses do not seem to be out of line to me – a sinful being myself. All of us have sin in our lives and we need to be willing to confess those sins, ask forgiveness and move forward living a better life as Job eventually did.
Lesson number two to be learned is how to be a real friend – a best friend. Job had lost so much and was in need; however, he did not ask his friends for anything. They had the power to help him but offered nothing but hurtful and evil accusations. Job even at one point told them what he would do for them if the shoe was on the other foot – he would encourage and support them. Kind words can always go a long way to help the way a person is feeling about the condition of their life – something we should never forget.
Lesson number three is to remember how being judgmental can come back to bite you. You cannot judge a person and their character by what is going on in their life. A person that has much and seems to suffer no evil is not necessarily in a good place. On the other hand, a person that is going through a lot of bad things and/or does not have so much materially does not mean they are a bad person. As Job continued to maintain through everything – the wicked can prosper and the good can suffer.
So what kind of friends have you had in the past? What kind of friends do you have in your life right now? What kind of friend have you been in the past and what kind of friend are you now?
I pray that we can all be the kind of friend we should be to others and that we in turn can have those kinds of friends in our lives. A friend that loves you no matter what…a friend that is there to support you when you need them…a friend that loves you unconditionally. “Friends are the family that you choose.” (Jess C. Scott)
(Written by Karran Martin – September 14, 2019)