Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Bridge Over Troubled Water

I'm sure you'll recognize this oldie but goody (and probably sing it for the next day or so like I have!):
"Lean on me
 When you're not strong
 I'll be your friend
 I'll help you carry on"
It makes you feel better by just singing it sometimes, doesn't it? I've been singing that one since I posted yesterday's blog introducing the topic of friendship....along with the Whitney Houston song:
"Count on me through thick and thin
 A friendship that will never end
 When you are weak, I will be strong
 Helping you to carry on"
As promised, we're on the subject of friendship again today. Yesterday we talked about what a gift friendship is from our Creator.  It truly is a blessing. Having said that, I can't sugar coat it and say it's always peachy keen. It requires effort, to say they least, and at times, the Proverb, "A friend loves at all times" can really be put to the test. We are going to look at a familiar group of friends in scripture today that were put to the test to the nth degree.
Whether you're a believer or not, you've most likely heard at least some of the story of Job. Well, I unintentionally landed in the book of Job the other day when doing a search on my Bible app on my iPhone. I got so wrapped up in the text of Job that I can't even tell you now what word I was searching for that sent me there. If I didn't know better, I'd say some of those passages weren't there before because I only remember a few basic things about Job: his often quoted "patience of Job" reference; his great test of faith by Satan; and how God got mad at Job and his friends. Let's just say that this particular search opened up a whole new can of worms for me. I must forewarn you that just as friendships can be is the book of Job....and I pray I haven't over complicated this post!:)
Now, I must give this disclaimer: I don't profess, by any means, to understand all of the subject matter and meaning tucked away in the book of Job. All I can tell you is that some things struck me during this reading that never had before. As Hebrews 4:12 says, "The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword." This I believe whole heartedly. When I first started nursing in the ICU, I had a veteran nurse tell me something that stuck with me.... the patients were so fragile and their care truly so intense...that he prayed everyday on the way to work that he wouldn't kill anyone that day. That became my prayer as well. I feel the same way when sharing anything scriptural with others....that I won't do more harm than good. So, I'm simply going to share the thoughts that were stirred in me when reading over Job and ask you to prayerfully revisit this book yourself. Who may be like me and find a whole new section of scripture has somehow found it's way into your Bible, too!:)

If it's been a while, here's the intro:
Satan had been "roaming to and fro on the earth" and had challenged God that His people only love Him for what He can do for Him. So, God brought His attention to Job, a faithful, righteous man. Long story short, God allowed Job to be tested; his family and possessions taken from him and then horrendous physical ailments to plague him.

[I am going to recap the interactions between Job and his friends the way they struck me, in the concept of friendship. I should tell you that there is much debate over why God was mad at Job and his friends. There is much debate on many, many aspects of this book. Sometimes though, I think we over analyze scripture and other times I think, out of His wisdom, He holds off our understanding until He deems appropriate for our benefit and His purposes.]
Back to Job:
These three sort of infamous friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) had heard about Job's terrible circumstances and got together and decided to go visit Job to encourage and comfort any good friend would. (you can just hear "just call on me brother, when you need a hand" playing can't you?) Only, when they saw him from a distance, he was in such bad shape it shocked them and they basically lost it. Still, they went and sat by his side for a solid week....speechless, the Bible says. Not one word. When finally, Job himself speaks. Speak he does. What does he say? Think about it, we've all felt it in some circumstance, "Why, God??"Job goes on and on and on about how he wished he'd never been born. So, disturbed by that thought, Eliphaz reminds him that he has done a lot of good for many suffering's just that now he was the one suffering. He reminds him not to despise the discipline of the Lord. He's trying to be a good friend. Though, he doesn't realize the spiritual warfare going on. Job isn't being punished....God has allowed Satan to test Job's faith.

Well, Job goes on, somewhat understandably, with his "woe is me" speeches but then begins to question God. Then Bildad speaks up. He tells Job something to the effect of, " hey buddy....we understand your plight...but do you think it wise to say that God is doing you an injustice?" To which Job simply increases his challenges to God. So, the other friend Zophar speaks up and says, "You deserve worse!" Wow. Zophar is angered at his mockery of God and attempts to call his attention back to the fact that God is the Almighty.

Well, it goes downhill from here. Job lashes back at them and says "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." In ch. 15,

Here's one of the baffling things to me. I've always heard about the patience of Job. He originally whole heartedly worshipped God when calamity hit. Yet, here in this verse he says, "Though He slay me...I will hope in Him"....then follows it up with an arrogant comment to the effect of "but, I want to have a chat with Him and ask Him just what He thinks He's doing!" In my humble opinion, the second statement calls the sincerity of the first one into question.   Eliphaz answers this with his own speech of, "Pretty brave there aren't ya Job ole buddy? So you don't fear God anymore?" I can almost hear the words that come out of Job's mouth next in ch. 16, "Y'all are some miserable's easy for you to spout all of that're not in my position!"
First new picture for me during this reading: I know I'm not a scholar but I just didn't really get the impression that his friends were trying to hurt him with their words. I mean...they came all that way and had been there a week at his side. They loved Job. But, rather, it seemed they were trying to guard his heart and mind from going to a dangerous place with God. This is where our godly friendships can get messy. In a worldly friendship...the other friends would likely just agree with him out of support. That's what we want people to do when we are suffering isn't it? We want them to comfort us. We want them to be on our side. We want them to encourage us on the path that we've chosen. The additional responsibility of godly friendships, though, is also to be aware of things unseen. Job is right in the middle of spiritual warfare. At any given moment, we are too. I think the friends wanted to support Job any way they could. Yes, they wrongly assumed he was being disciplined for some sin in his life, but still whatever the cause, they could see the war of the mind and his faith beginning to fail and it alarmed them. They could see the enemy at work in his thoughts and they knew that was a slippery slope.  We ALL need friends like that. I think Job was in the midst of the grieving process and he simply wanted his friends to empathize. He wanted them to agree with him and say, "I can't believe God would do this or allow this!"and they weren't about to go there.  After all, does it really count as supporting each other when what we are really supporting is the enemy's efforts in our lives? Kind of like Luke 9:25, "What good does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"
I will say this: There are times when our circumstances are the direct result of letting our minds lead our hearts down that slippery slope with the enemy and though we'd like to, there is no one to blame but ourselves. Yet, there are also some horrendous things that happen to us in this world. They are allowed by God and could be prevented by God. I can't argue that point. But, just like with Job, those things that happen are the works of the enemy. I can't explain the barbaric rape and torture that took place in India that's been all over the news any other way. I can't explain why people are born into poverty and violence. This world is broken. Period. All I know is that our God is in the business of restoration. One day justice will be restored....and will reign. Period. We need only, as Paul says, to "keep the faith." It's hard and as a result....rare. As Beth Moore said it recently, "The enemy is not after our health....he is not after our marriage....he is not after any earthly thing. He is after our faith! KEEP the faith!" The enemy was not after Job's health or his family or anything else....he wanted his faith.

Back to Job and his friends, they all go back and forth for several more chapters about some pretty hefty things. Then finally, Job goes on, (for six chapters) grieving the words of his friends, the gravity of his afflictions, and the perceived absence of God. At the end of this rant, his friends just don't have it in them to argue with him anymore. They seem to have either assumed a, "You can't tell him anything. We tried to help and he's hurling insults at us....I'm not saying another word" attitude or one of..."I don't know....Maybe he's right".
This is where another question came to mind about our little Job here: I'm sure it won't be found in any commentaries, but I just wonder if Job really isn''t showing his humanity and pride here? To me, it seems he takes offense to his friends trying to teach him anything. Even when he is speaking of the majesty of God, it's almost like he is only saying it to confirm that he is just as wise as any one of them. Yes, pride can get in the way of any friendship...even, or should I say at times...especially.... friendships among believers. It can certainly hinder any healing or restoration He may want to offer. This is precisely the form our friendships can easily take. I'd say the whole scene has probably fit us all to a tee at some point.

Then something caught me off guard that I don't remember ever hearing or reading before....out of the blue, a fourth friend speaks up, Elihu, "the son of Barachel the Buzite of the family of Ram." (Which, as a side a descendant of David). He is younger and has kept his mouth closed through all of this out of respect for those older than him. But it says in ch. 32 that he "burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God and at the friends because they found no answer for Job." Basically, he was content to keep quiet and let the elders deal with Job and his ill-conceived notions but was disappointed that they had caved and fallen silent.  Now, I don't think Elihu means to be but, is a little arrogant and insensitive at times....but I think he had good intentions. Elihu calls Job out and says, "You're basically saying that you might has well have sinned and not been a righteous man....and that is just messed up Job! Do you hear yourself?" In chapters 32-37, Elihu kind of sets Job straight about the greatness, majesty, and justice of God. Then in chapter 38, God takes up his own case with Job.

I ended up camping on this one for a while. The thought that maybe Elihu had been compelled to try to reach Job and this very act may have been Job's saving grace in that maybe it prepared his heart for the encounter that was coming with the Almighty. If he had not been addressed again after his 6 chapter what state of mind would he have been? Would he have, as many have done when in hardship and as his wife encouraged him to do, finally denied God? The fact that God used some of the same words that Elihu had already challenged Job with tells me that Elihu was operating under the Spirit, as he had claimed, and could not keep quiet.

As I said, I don't understand all that transpired in the book of Job. Among many other questions, I don't know why Elihu only appeared in this segment and I don't know why God didn't mention him when He rebuked the three other friends for their silence and appearance of almost agreeing with Job. I really wonder, though, if Elihu was not rebuked by God because God saw that he was concerned about the spiritual well being of Job above what everyone thought of him speaking up. Elihu may not have handled it 100% maturity and grace and it may be why God didn't commend him either. Thoush, as the younger one, he had to assume a position that he shouldn't have had to assume. Maybe that's why God neither commended nor rebuked him, we may never know. What I do know is, in the last few decades, complacency in our spiritual lives has become the accepted norm. So, regardless of our age at the moment.... we could all do with a little more boldness in the faith.  Overall, with Elihu, I get a feeling that though he was blunt with him at times, he also seemed to be pleading with Job because he was afraid for him....and as we saw in chapters 38-42....with good reason.

When actually faced with God and HIS questions, Job suddenly could barely speak.

God wasn't happy with the friends either. Again, though it's highly debated, I don't get the impression that He was mad over what they said to Job. I think it was because of what they didn't say. They hadn't "spoken of Him as His servant Job had." Just had...when he repented of his arrogance with God. They let him wear them down. Whether they were tired of arguing, had their feelings hurt, or maybe even questioning God themselves now....they had demonstrated a lack of faith either by being swayed or by letting pride take over and shut up their defense of God and they had not yet corrected or repented of it.  So, He told them to march on out and prepare a sacrificial offering and Job would be praying for them and since Job was right before Him again, He would accept His plea for them.

This was the final thing that struck me in the book of Job this time around that never had before. After Job repented of his rants against God, we read on in Job 42:1, "After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before."
I found that fascinating....the Lord had Job pray for his friends. The friends that came all that way to comfort their ailing friend but ended up adding to his grief and having a monumental blow up. He didn't restore Job's fortunes until AFTER he prayed for his friends. In my opinion, they were all in the wrong in some way.....God made it right. He made it right because after they messed up, they wisely put aside pride and closed their mouths. Then, they....did....what....He....asked. I think what a restoring time it must have been for Job while praying for his friends after such raw emotions had just been exchanged between them. How humbling but precious it must have been for the friends to be aware as they were preparing their sacrifices for their own wrong in the situation, that Job was right with God again...and now praying for them. He is in the business of restoration!

I think Job has a lot to say about our friendships of today. The enemy is still very much after our faith. Fortunately, even when we fall short, our God is still very much in the restoration let's be true in our friendships and help each other where it matters keeping the faith.

"When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down"


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