Leaving the Judgment Seat for the Ash Heap
The post below is from a Wednesday night devotional I gave recently at our church. Because it was the same day that I wrote my last blog post, similar thoughts were on my mind when I wrote the devotional. It isn’t really part two, but it is a related entry into this blog. You might say it deals more generally with being a friend to those who are hurting and does not focus only on chronic pain. I hope it is an encouragement to you!
1/30/19 – Wednesday Night Devotional
I’ve been reading through Job as part of my preparation for this current sermon series. But since the series focuses on Job’s questions, we don’t get to deal much with his friends, other than noticing when their insensitivity causes him to ask even more despairing questions. Job isn’t the happiest of topics, but I think it is a vitally important book. I also read C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed, today. It took me about an hour. I tell you that because it is well worth your time, but it is a little like Job; it is painfully honest. I was also working on a blog today for my chronic pain support ministry. The post was directed toward those who support those in chronic pain. So, all this to say, that pain and grief have been on my mind, not the cheeriest subjects, but practically I want to say something today about what makes a good friend and what doesn’t to those who are suffering.
Job’s friends do him no good in his misery after the first seven days. When they begin to talk, they push him closer to the edge of despair. They might be the original inspiration for the phrase, “With friends like you, who needs enemies.” But it too easy to paint them as bad friends and pretend that we are not just like them in some ways. They weren’t actually bad friends in some important ways.
First of all, they came to Job in his need. Many “friends” would avoid Job at all costs. But they interrupted their busy lives and they traveled to Job. Apparently, they were willing to leave their families and concerns behind to be with Job indefinitely. They sit with him a week before they say anything of substance. Most of us would get impatient with silence after ten minutes.
When they speak, they make two horrible errors. One is an instinct gone awry. The other is caused by bad theology. The instinct is to want to fix someone. They see Job in horrible suffering. They cannot just let that be. They think they can fix Job with their good advice. They lose the perspective of the ash heap and instead now assume the perspective of a benevolent judge. We know what is wrong, Job, and if you will but listen to us, all will be well. Their quest to fix Job becomes more important than Job himself.
Their bad theology comes from the prevailing thought of the day. If something terrible has happened to you, then it can only be because you deserved it. They think Job is hiding a big secret and that if he would only come clean, then God would restore his fortunes. They are so convinced of this that they can consider no other options. Their fix-it instinct combined with bad theology leads to alienating Job and almost does what losing everything and suffering terrible pain could not do…sever Job’s relationship with God.
I’m sure no one here has ever made one of these errors! I had a good friend
who grieved the loss of his dog like it was his child. Even allowing for the fact that he had no children, I felt like the pity party had gone on long enough. So, I wrote him a long e-mail about how his affections were misplaced and revealed he really loved his dog more than God, or something to that effect! I was trying to fix him. I was presumptuous with what I thought I knew about his relationship with God relative to his dog. I was wrong.
We are better friends from the ash heap instead of the judgment seat. Jesus left the judgment seat for a cross and told his friends, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). Job’s friends started out that way but lost their way. Let’s be a friend to those who are hurting that resembles Jesus more than Job’s friends.
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