I read the other day of an occasion when the then Prime Minister Robert Menzies rose to speak to a public meeting when an antagonistic member of the crowd called out, “Tell us all you know, Bob. It won’t take very long”. To which Menzies immediately replied, “I’ll tell them all we both know. It won’t take any longer”.
Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Then I read in Job 13:5 Job saying to his companions, “Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom.”
And with this advice plainly before me I am invited to preach a sermon! And that sermon to be based on Job 13! Is the wise course of action for me to now stop talking and sit down? If so, I lack wisdom because I am going to press on.
Because, when I look at this chapter I see verse 5 saying “Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom”, I also read verse 3 where Job says, “but I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.”
I think that, at this stage of our reading in the book of Job, we need to consider both these verses. I will start with verse 5 and Job’s request to his friends to keep silent.
What is the state of affairs at this point?
Well, first we know that Job has lost everything except his wife, whose advice to him is “curse God and die”, and three companions. His children are all dead, his belongings taken from him and he is sitting covered with sores on the rubbish dump.
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to really grasp the depths of Job’s suffering, even when I try.
I have a painful right heel that does, I admit, get me down a bit by the end of the day, but it’s nothing like Job’s pain.
What must it have been like for Job to have all his children die? My father died a few years ago but every now and then I think, “I must mention that to dad”. It seems to very hard for us to really comprehend to death of a loved one. But I am blessed – my four children and their children are all alive and well. Job has lost so much more.
I do not even want to think how I might cope if my wife died. Some of you already know how dreadful and continuous is the pain of losing your husband or wife. But does that experience make it any easier for you to understand just what someone else is going through when they experience such a loss?
I live in comfort with all I need supplied. Job has lost everything.
If someone we know is suffering in this way we are at a loss – “what can I do? What should I say?” If we have any sense of compassion or friendship for the one who is in pain a real desire wells within us to be of some help.
I was once with a friend who was bemoaning the fact that she was a very short person, so I tried to be encouraging by saying, “good things come in small parcels”. She came back with the reply, “so does strychnine”. I learned in one quick lesson that platitudes are of no help and have unsuccessfully sought to avoid them ever since.
Nonetheless we are stuck with that feeling that we should say something.
It seems Job’s friends were affected this way only to have Job tell them “Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!”
Remember that for the first 7 days they sat without speaking with Job? So it seems that the first week they spent with him demonstrated they had some wisdom. Eventually he broke the silence himself with a lament in which he told them he wished he had never been born. Their silence, even their tears, was of no comfort to Job. As Job poured out his frustration he was making it clear that their silent company only added to his despair.
So they started, taking turns to offer advice only to have Job tear their suggestions to shreds and turn their advice back on themselves. Then he tells them to keep their counsel to themselves. What they had to say was useless, hurtful, it demeaned and offended God himself.
What am I to do if I find myself with someone who is suffering? I cannot say or do nothing. Staying away leaves them lonelier. Saying nothing loads them with more responsibility and can come across as a kind of holier-than-thou gloating. But what can I say that will help? My experience is like Job’s friends: whatever I say will probably be the wrong thing!
Well, before I start feeling sorry for myself in this situation let me remind myself that my friend’s suffering is so much greater and so very real for them, that my discomfort in their presence is trivial.
I have to be there. I have to say something, even if it’s only, “would you like a cup of tea?” I have to be ready to listen, to say only a little. I don’t have the answer to the questions they are almost certainly feeling but I can listen to them expressed.
I am not good at this, but perhaps God will use me in some stumbling way to be of help. At least when Job needed to express his frustration he had his friends there to bear the brunt of his feelings. I don’t suppose they enjoyed Job blasting away at them – they tried to correct him further only to receive another blast. But at least they were there to hear Job out.
How are we to deal with pain and loss? How did Job deal with it?
The natural response we make when pain or loss comes on us is to ask the question, “Why?” His friends clearly assumed that was Job’s question and provided him with answers very much like we might be tempted to offer in similar circumstance. But Job dismissed them ungratefully, regarding them as being nowhere near the truth or at least nothing he had not figured out for himself.
He remained completely confident in the presence and nature of God. In Chapter 12 he reasserts that God is almighty, all-wise, all-powerful and all-knowing. However, he does wish God would reveal some of this wisdom and knowledge to him, to Job, and, better still stop the hurt.
When he says in 13:3, “But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God” he clearly knows God is there, he does not believe he deserves to suffer this way and is prepared to defend himself before God.
Job’s confidence is such that he can say (v 15) “Though he slay me, I will hope in him, yet I will argue my ways to his face.”
If he is suffering this way because he has sinned, perhaps in his youth, then he wanted to know what he had done wrong so he could repent and put these things in the past.
But, above all, he wanted the suffering to stop. (21) “Withdraw your hand far from me,” he pleads,” and let not dread of you terrify me.”
You have probably heard the line, “If God seems far away, guess who moved.”
You know the feeling, don’t you? Things are so grim that God seems not only far away but has deserted you altogether. Perhaps leaving you the feeling that he does not exist, or has never existed at all. It’s quite illogical, of course. God is not something you can switch off and on. He does not come and go from the universe he created. He does not love you one day but not another. But when you are overwhelmed by pain or grief, how easy is it to be logical?
In Job’s case, and so often in ours, God seems far away yet no one has moved. Indeed, no matter how far away God seems to be he is right here where he has always been. From Job’s own declarations he clearly understood this.
He is overwhelmed by his circumstance and enraged at his suffering but he has not lost all hope. He does not claim that it is all God’s fault nor that God is wrong to allow all this to happen. Job does not want to alienate himself from God, to upset him further nor even to abandon God and have nothing more to do with him.
He says, “I will hope in him”.
And he also says, “but I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.”
How comfortable are you with saying that? “I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God.”