This year I started reading the book of Job.
It starts with Job losing all his children, valuables and health. His three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to visit him because they had heard of his misfortune and wanted to support him.
Reading these chapters though made me ponder on what traits and behaviours credit a good friend, particularly in trying times as seen in Job’s case. I came to these 3 conclusions:
- They put in effort to be with you and to comfort and support you.
Job’s friends put in the effort to set out from their homes, meet together and go visit Job to comfort and sympathise with him. They didn’t just send a condolence gift or send a messenger in their place they put in the effort to physically see him and comfort him. They took proactive measures to see that Job was comforted and a good friend should put in the effort to see that through.
Now in our technological age, and especially in the times we are living in with Covid-19, physically being there in persona may not be possible. But thankfully this is not the only means of communication. A good friend can take to show their sympathy and care via a meaningful phone, video or Zoom call, a meaningful letter or text etc… These still show, that you’ve put in effort to take time out of your day to call and be with them.
2. They are sensitive to your suffering and will not preside judgement
This is where the three friends we’re in error. They eventually began to pass judgement on why Job was experiencing what he was experiencing.
Eliphaz said it was because Job had sinned and advised him to go to God and acknowledge his sin before him. Bildad building upon this, said that it is because Job is refusing to confess a sin, so God is punishing him. Zophar, even said that Job had sinned and deserves even more suffering than he’s experiencing! Elihu, a bystander, also thought that Job was suffering because of sin or a poor attitude; concluding that his suffering was not meant to punish Job but to correct him.
Whether or not the suggestions given by the friends were right, his three friends were insensitive to how Job was feeling. This was a very confusing and tough time for Job, he was probably wondering why he was experiencing so much grief and suffering so a further interrogation by his friends is not providing any comfort or sympathy. This was not the time to pass judgements on Job.
A good friend is willing to listen and be there for them in the time of agonising supporting them where they need it, providing that encouraging word.
3. Only give advice on the misfortune when asked or when God has specifically told you to speak on the situation
This is linked to the previous point, but a good friend should not be so swift to give out advice especially if not asked. Now I know there may be some of you saying but what if the reason for their misfortune is so obvious that I need to give them this advice. You see it as a disservice if you don’t.
However I would discourage doing this.
Firstly, when a friend is in grief this is not the time to be dispensing advice but rather to console and comfort. Most won’t even be in the right mindset to take on whatever advice you’re giving or again may see it as you holding judgement over them.
The quote below applies to this situation.
Secondly, as seen in Job’s case, his friends made assumptions about Job’s suffering. They did not have all the facts about Job’s situation to even provide the correct advice and as we see in Job 42 God rebuked them for speaking incorrectly about the situation. Even called it folly!
This is why it’s much wiser to speak only when asked and if asked present it as a suggestion and not a given, or if you feel the calling by God to speak upon a friend’s misfortune then proceed to give advice but do this only if you know God is definitely calling you to do so, which requires discernment.
Which leads me to be thankful to Jesus Christ who gave us a most precious gift of the Holy Spirit. Our greatest friend, helper and comforter. He understands us and is with us in our darkest and most grieving moments and He will know what to say and when to say it.
To conclude, I wanted to be a good friend virtually to anyone who is reading this and is going through grief. I may not know what your feeling right now but do know that you have my deepest sympathies and care.