The need for encouragement for Job and for us all

Job chapter 4 begins with Eliphaz speaking to Job about an apparent contradiction. Job has been able to comfort and strengthen others but it seems to me that Eliphaz is saying if your words could uphold others, why are you having such difficulties? If you believe something enough to share it with another, are you believing it for yourself? Don’t you have confidence and hope?

Behold, you have instructed many,
and you have strengthened the weak hands.
Your words have upheld him who was stumbling,
and you have made firm the feeble knees.
But now it has come to you, and you are impatient;
it touches you, and you are dismayed.
Is not your fear of God your confidence,
and the integrity of your ways your hope?
Job 4:3-6

It is a difficult thing to be able to pull yourself out of such hardships and misery such as Job is facing. He could with complete sincerity offer words of encouragement to others, but now is a time that he may be reliant on others to take that role for his sake. Job needs his friends to be a source of strength, but instead Eliphaz questions.

I am reminded of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the need for community and the ability of others to speak truth and be a strength for us, especially since we cannot do it alone.

But God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Even if we are often the “strong” one for someone else, publicly seen as comforters and encouragers, that doesn’t mean that we still do not need the word of Christ from brothers and sisters in the faith. We are all called to proclaim Christ and we are all people who need to hear it not only in our own heart, but in the voice of another. No one is so mature a Christian that they are above being encouraged by the words of the gospel. No one is perfect, no one is strong enough. So be open to those chances in which you can be that bearer of Christ to someone who may really need it, and be open to hearing Christ in others.

A tip for reading Job

Job mocked by his wife, Georges de la Tour, 1625-1650

One thing I have found difficulty in reading Job is just keeping track of where I am. This is a pretty unique book and coming from the prophets in which we have fewer voices to keep track of, Job is complicated in comparison. Once we get past the prologue we find Job surrounded by three people, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

As the speeches start, make sure to keep track in your mind who is talking. Sometimes they’ll go on for pages, so you won’t have those handy little section headings that modern Bibles have. Each one will speak and then Job will reply to them. It is good to note here that just because the words of these companions are included in the Bible does not mean that they each have thoroughly ‘biblical’ perspectives. Try to imagine what you’d say to someone in Job’s position to get a sense of the difficulty these three have in finding any words to share. But also think of Job’s perspective and ask how he would respond to their words. They go back and forth several times, taking us through the first 26 chapters.

Later on another man named Elihu is added to this discussion, but in the end it is not the words of any of these men, but God who has the final say.