Southminster Presbyterian Church

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The Kind of Help We All Could Do Without

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: Job 1:13-20; other selected verses from Job

            There is a children's song by Shel Silverstein called

"Helping." The words go like this:

            Agatha Fry, she made a pie, and Christopher John helped bake


            Christopher John, he mowed the lawn, and Agatha Fry helped

rake it.

            Now Zachary Zugg took out the rug, and Jennifer Joy helped

shake it;

            Then Jennifer Joy, she made a toy, and Zachary Zugg helped

break it.

            And some kind of help is the kind of help that helping's all


            And some kind of help is the kind of help, we all can do


            In our Bible reading for today Job gets some help that he

probably could have done without. Nancy read the beginning of the story from chapter 1-how Job's livestock were stolen and his servants killed and how his children died in a horrible building collapse. The next chapter describes how Job gets sores over his whole body, like the worst case of shingled ever, and he is racked with pain. Then Job's friends come along, supposedly trying to help him.

            I have asked Marty and Paula Hawkins to share a skit I wrote

showing what Job's friends might look like today.

[Perform skit]

            The character Mark, whom Marty portrays, is basically a

conglomeration of Job's friends. For example, at one point Mark says to Myrna: "I guess Jerry didn't take very good care of himself." [Slide 1] Here are some of the things said to Job by his friends: [Clicks on slide 1]

  • Eliphaz: "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" (Job 4:7-8).

  • Bildad: "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" (Job 8:3-4)

    These are versions of "blame the victim," something Job's friends do a lot. If bad things happens to people, it is because of their own mistakes. And sometimes that is true. Sometimes people suffer as a result of bad choices. But that is not always true, and it certainly was not true in the case of Job. Even God said that Job was righteous. You can't always blame suffering on the mistakes of the victim.

            At another point Mark says to Myrna, "When you get through

    this you will be stronger for it." [Slide 2] This, too is echoed by Job's friends: [Click on slide 2]

  • Eliphaz: "How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal" (Job 5:17-18)

    This is a version of "It's all for the best." When bad things happen, don't get upset; God is making you stronger or more compassionate or more humble. You will end up a better person. This is another way of trying to justify God and make sense of tragedy, and sometimes it is true. Sometimes adversity makes us stronger. But sometimes it crushes people, like it did Job's children. Were Job's children stronger for having a building fall on them?

            Next Mark says to Myrna, "In time you will get over it.

    Time heals all wounds." [Slide 3] Bildad tells Job: [Clicks on slides 3]

  • Bildad: "He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with joy" (Job 8:21).

  • Zophar: "You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than noonday; its darkness will be like the morning" (Job 11:16-17).

    This is another way of trying to defend God by minimizing the pain, by saying that it is only temporary. But is it? Do you really think Job will ever forget the children he has lost? Do you think he ever wants to?

            Finally Mark says to Myrna, "At least you have faith.  You

    just have to keep believing and praying." [Slide 4] This, too, is repeated by Job's friends: [Clicks on slide 4]

  • Bildad says, "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" (Job 8:5-6).

  • Eliphaz says, "If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored, . and if the Almighty is your gold and your precious silver, then you will delight yourself in the Almighty, and lift up your face to God. You will pray to him, and he will hear you" (Job 22:23-27).

Does it really help telling someone to pray, when their prayers are met by a deafening silence?

            At the end of the story God condemns the things Job's

friends say to him. Maybe there are times when people bring suffering on themselves, but that was not true for Job. Maybe the day will come when Job can look back and see how God used this tragedy for good, but that is for Job to discover himself at a later time, not for his friends to blithely promise.

            It is interesting that when Job's friends first came to him

in chapter 2, verse 13 says, [Slide 5] "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."

            Now that is the kind of help that helping's all about.  In

chapter 13 Job says to his friends, "If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom!" Sometimes the best kind of help is not trying to help: not trying to explain what happened, not trying to fix it, not trying to make sense of it, and certainly not showing Job the error of his ways. Sometimes the best thing we can do for people is to sit with them in silence, letting our silence acknowledge the anguish of what they are experiencing. [Slide 6: Blank]

           If you follow our 365 Bible stories, you will read the rest

of the story of Job tomorrow. I won't spoil the ending. But let me close by sharing a short commentary on Job written by a Presbyterian pastor named Frederick Buechner. This is from his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. He writes,

Maybe the reason God doesn't explain to Job why terrible things happen is that he knows what Job needs isn't an explanation. Suppose that God did explain. Suppose that God were to say to Job that the reason the cattle were stolen, the crops ruined, and the children killed was thus and so, spelling everything out right down to and including the case of boils. Job would have his explanation.

And then what? Understanding in terms of the divine economy why his children had to die, Job would still have to face their empty chairs at breakfast every morning. Carrying in his pocket straight from the horse's mouth a complete theological justification of his boils, he would still have to scratch and burn.

God doesn't reveal his grand design. He reveals himself. He doesn't show us why things are as they are. He shows us his face.

That's what God did in Jesus; God showed us a face.

And Job says, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see thee." Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf (p. 47).

            What Job needed from his friends was not their explanations

but their presence, which is exactly what we get from God.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7