Eliphaz meant well. He’d traveled some distance to be with his hurting friend. He sat with Job in silence for a whole week. To me, that is a sign of real friendship.
But, like most of us, Eliphaz got to the point where he wanted to fix things. Maybe he was uncomfortable himself in the presence of such intense grief. Maybe he just wanted to make Job feel better. “Ok, Job. You’ve cried about this long enough. Let’s figure this thing out and do something.”
Whatever his motive, once Eliphaz started talking, he was little comfort to his friend. Maybe there is something we can learn from his example.
Like rethinking the blame game. Eliphaz, in effect, says, “Face it, Job, you deserve this.” Then if that isn’t bad enough, he follows that with the ever popular: “If I were you…
Actually, he said, “But if it were I, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him.” (5:8 emphasis mine)
Here’s the thing: when we know of people going through hard situations, examining ourselves is not a bad thing to do. Asking myself what I might do in a similar circumstance reveals some important things about me.
BUT YOU DON’T SHARE YOUR FINDING WITH YOUR HURTING FRIEND.
Because you are you. Your friend is your friend. Your circumstances are yours. Their circumstances are theirs. Besides, you DON’T know what you would do. Not really. Not even if you’ve experienced something similar. You are not them. What worked for you might not work for them.
You telling them what you would do elevates you, and further pushes them into their already hopeless estate. I can’t believe any of us would want to do that to someone who is already in that much pain. Even if they ask you what you would do, or ask what you think they should do, resist the temptation to tell them.
I find that saying something like, “I don’t know,” is sometimes the only truthful answer. “What do you think you should do?” is a much better response. Or, even better: “Let’s pray and ask God to show you what you should do.”
Eliphaz and his friends are going to have a bucket full of advice for Job. And really, none of it is all that good. But let’s read their words and learn to be better comforters, better counselors, better friends to people who are hurting.
If it were me, I’d learn from their mistakes. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)