The suffering of Job is well documented in the first two chapters of the book of Job. There are two rounds of suffering that include the loss of his children, possessions, and health. It is a devastating loss that would have killed some people. Job survives, but wishes he didn’t. In the third chapter he curses the day he was born and questions why death now escapes him.
After Job’s lament, the third round of suffering begins. Three of Job’s friends show up to comfort him. But after they hear him cursing and questioning his existence, they rebuke him and try to correct him. Job is stunned. He is suffering and they are standing over him in judgement. He knows his suffering is not caused by any sin that he has committed, but they accuse him of getting what he deserves. They have a fixed philosophy of life that says you reap what you sow, so if you are reaping calamity, you must have sown some sin to cause it.
Job’s friends are so intent on proving their point that they miss his pain. Though their point may be true in some situations, it is not true in Job’s. He really had not sinned. Their accusation was a twist of the knife in Job’s soul. It was salt added to his wound. It was the third round of suffering he had to endure.
Chapters 4-31 include three cycles of argument between Job and his friends. The more they talk, the harsher the language becomes. By the time they finish, the friends have called Job arrogant and a windbag, accused him of harming widows and orphans, predicted he will go down with the wicked, and even accused his dead children of getting what they deserved. Using the word “friends” to describe them seems utterly inappropriate. They sound more like Satan in the first two chapters with their accusations.
After Job’s final words to them at the end of chapter 31, the three friends don’t surface again until the final chapter. The Lord is speaking now. He rebukes them. The Lord says they have not spoken accurately about him. He says that they need to be forgiven for their sin, and that Job is the one who needs to pray for them. Job prayed for them. “And the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” (Job 42:9)
The text does not explicitly tell us about Job’s relationship with these men after this prayer, but it seems that they remained friends. If the Lord had Job pray for them, and he heard Job’s prayer and forgave them, how could Job not forgive them, too?
In the end, these men are still friends. Their friendship survived on forgiveness. The restoration is complete.
We all have sinned, and Another Friend has prayed for us. His prayer was on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). As the forgiveness of Jesus works its way into our souls, and we see that he forgives our friends who have wounded us, we forgive. If we are the friend who has inflicted the wound, we repent and receive forgiveness. In the Lord, our friendships survive on forgiveness.
This Sunday at Grace we will consider how to be, and not to be, a friend. Until then, pray for your friends and for the friendships in our congregation.