Thank you for being a friend

Job 42:10-17
There are a lot of questions to consider when we read the book of Job. At the heart of many of those questions is the idea of God making deals with the devil. That seems to set up problematic issues for many of us.

But it’s not that part that bothers me.

Job is what we call wisdom literature. As such, its design is to draw us into larger questions and a larger pursuit. The pursuit is always God’s wisdom. That’s how we make sense of what our lives are to be in light of what we know about God. The question guiding Job’s wisdom pursuit is, Can we tame God with our expectations?

The ancient readers of Job didn’t have an idea of the devil like you and I do. Satan, then, isn’t a name in Job. It’s simply a title. The satan enters the story and we never hear from him again. He’s not that big a deal. What is pressing is Job’s repeated quarrel with God. Job and his friends seem to represent common expectations we have of God. Namely, that if we do everything right, God will bless our lives.

On the surface, that may sound like a comforting thought. Then again, doesn’t that make God sound shallow? Jesus asked, “If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that” (Luke 6:33). So, either God is a cosmic Santa Claus, or we’ve misunderstood how the world works.

I assume we need God’s wisdom to better understand how the world works.

Again, I have no trouble reading Job as wisdom literature. It makes it easier to appreciate what is happening (and what isn’t). The story challenges some of our fundamental assumptions.

I don’t have a problem reading with Job as he does that until I get to the last chapter.

I’m still trying to make sense of how the story ends. And I know just like the rest of the story, that’s the point. What assumptions or expectations am I bringing to the chapter that unsettle me? It just seems odd that Job’s fortunes are doubled. We’re just supposed to be happy his old family has been replaced?

I’ve read that part of the point is that Job emerges a changed man. He’s encountered God, after all. That’ll have to be fine for today.

But as I was wrestling with that again this morning, I was drawn to another part of the story. Whereas Job’s friends cause him much strife throughout the story, in the last chapter things change. Job prayed for those stubborn friends. Afterward, other friends and his family come to greet him.

We know Job is still grieving. This new group came and “showed him sympathy.” Plus, “each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.” So it’s not like God dangled a new life in front of him. Rather, I take that to mean his friends and family became part of his blessing and renewal.

Amen!

If you’re looking for godly wisdom today, remember that. God used good friends and family to bless and heal Job. They may not have had all the answers. They didn’t burden Job with their theological sureties. They didn’t add to Job’s suffering. They showed up as someone there to support and encourage Job.

Thank you for being that kind of friend.

Stay blessed…john

I’ll be quiet

Ruth 1:18-22
Being a pastor has taught me how to be quiet. So has being a husband.

If there’s a problem, my nature is to move quickly to a solution. For a long time, that translated into me offering my advice about how to address any situation. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking and receiving advice.

But sometimes, oftentimes, part of the solution is taking more time to reflect. You also give a chance to let emotions run their course. So, people don’t always need my ideas about what to do. They need a listening and attentive ear.

Let me offer you a potential biblical example where I could have been too quick to offer advice. It’s Naomi and Ruth.

Their story begins when Naomi and her husband moved from their home country because of a famine. Naomi, her husband and her two sons lived in the country of Moab for about ten years. In that time, her two sons married. At some point, Naomi’s husband died, as did her two sons. That means that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law lost everything.

As a reminder, women who did not have husbands or sons to provide for them faced dire poverty and affliction. You can tell because Naomi heard how God had given food to the people in her own country. She set out to go back for that gift. Not riches or anything more than the basic element of survival.

Only one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law decides to return with her. It’s Ruth. It isn’t too much to paint a woeful picture of their situation. You can hear it in the reception they receive when Naomi returns home. The two are the talk of the town. When the women of the city say, “Is this Naomi,” it’s a sign of how much she had lost.

It’s so extreme, Naomi tells her people to change her name. Naomi means something like “pleasant.” Her life was pleasant before. But not now. In her eyes, God “dealt bitterly” with her. So, she should be known as Mara, which means bitter.

Remember when the Israelites were walking in the desert? They had been three days without water when they came to a place where the water was bitter. Mara.

In Naomi’s declaration to her people, she says something that isn’t entirely accurate. It’s the kind of point I would want to speak up about in my problem-solving venture. She says, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

That is, she left with her pleasant life and returned with it in ruins. But she wasn’t empty. She had Ruth. Now, again, two widowed women didn’t amount to much at all in that context. Having Ruth might not have seemed all that beneficial at that moment. If I were there and spoke up to correct her, Naomi and everyone else might have given me all kinds of looks.

The story doesn’t say Ruth said anything. She understood what Naomi meant. Instead of bombarding her with advice and correction, she walked with her. She was in this with her no matter what.

And there’s our reminder today.

My advice to Naomi would be to learn to look for the good you have amidst the terrible you’re facing. That’s what I’ve learned to do. Easy for me to say.

Indeed, there are moments when people do need us to speak up and give advice. How much more, though, do they need a good friend, a faithful friend? Someone who isn’t trying to fix their life. Only someone deeply committed to being a part of their life no matter what. Listen to your friends more. Listen to your friends. More.

Listening goes a long way in helping us love.

Stay blessed…john