I’m Eliphaz…or Bildad.
In the ancient story of Job and his soul breaking suffering I hardly identify with the broken protagonist, but the high-minded antagonists.
They knew to grieve with their friend Job, bearing his ashes and sackcloth as their own. But their grief counseling took a sharp dive when they opened their mouths to spew their Dr. Phil interpretations of Job’s plight.
To them, heart-rending tragedy wasn’t Job’s main problem, sin was. In one case they even suggest Job is so incomprehensibly sorrowful not because he lost his whole family, but lost his stuff.
Even with that, much of their pious dialogue with Job was inspired. So much so, Paul positively quotes a gem from Eliphaz in one of his letters (1 Cor 3:19).
Job’s friends were right.
Job’s friends were wrong.
When processing and prognosing other’s issues, I’m usually right and wrong too.
I can theologize and philosophize the hell out of a tough situation. Throw in a pat on the back and a clean Romans 8:28 reference and our brotherly obligation is done. Right? Maybe add in a “I’ll pray for ya” if we’re feeling super spiritual.
We can be right in truth but ruthlessly wrong in application of it.
Orthodox words spoken in uncharitable timing can only twist deeper the irreparable knife stuck in a victim’s heart of hearts.
Two days ago, a local family friend shot and killed his girlfriend and himself in an apparent murder-suicide. I didn’t know him personally, but he was once my wife’s kickbox instructor and father in law’s motorcycle riding buddy.
I don’t know the victim’s family well, but I do know they don’t need Scripture psycho babblings and graspings for crisp explanations. They need a messy incarnation of Jesus to bear their burden, not the trite bumper sticker Jesus of cultural Christianity. They need the human Jesus who shows up at the fresh gravesite of his BFF, Lazarus, and bawls like a slapped newborn baby (John 11:35).
You can’t salve a gaping wound with empty platitudes. Be careful with bruised reeds. “Nuance” isn’t just a fun hipster catchword in those circumstances.
But entering in to another’s heartbreak, with a weeping breaking heart of our own, is real work. I’d rather be a “Dear Anne” advice columnist dispensing my wisdom from afar while never having to personally witness the anguish is another’s face.
But it takes real wisdom not to speak, but to know when to shut up.
Just be there.
In the flesh.
In the moment.