Text: Job 2: 11- 3: 4
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
My wife and I have been deeply disturbed at the course of events that have taken place recently. Robinson Philip, member of my home parish, Immanuel Mar Thoma Church, Vishrantwadi, husband of Soji’s cousin and my church friend Tincy, passed away in a bike accident. This news literally shattered us. I just could not believe it’s true. How could God be so unfair was my first reaction. They have a 11 month old child who was the apple of their eyes. All the people who knew Tincy and know the wonderful person she is felt the pain as their own. Many of my friends asked me over Whatsapp and Facebook, “Why did God do this?” This was my question too. The pain of an unmerited suffering. Tincy had lost her mother and sister. She was finding great bliss in this marriage. I still remember the day when Robinson and Tincy came to wish me after my ordination. Robinson was very clear about his admiration for Tincy. He told us “I am very lucky to have married Tincy. With her in my life, I pray, I read the Bible and experience the joy of knowing God.” At that time Tincy blushed in embarrassment. Soji and I have enjoyed some good moments with them when we visited Pune. It pains us to think of Evan and Tincy. It is in this context that I read John Ortberg’s ‘God Is Closer Than You Think’ and Philip Yancey’s “The Bible Jesus Read.”
Let us now look at the passage in front of us. I personally feel that the message of the book of Job has been lost in just reading chapter’s 1 and 2. Till here it is a story of a man who has lost his children, his property, his health and literally everything but still does not complain. What great faith. His statement “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1: 21) has given a lot of people strength to look at pain in a different light. Even when his wife asks him to Curse God and die, he continues his faith. Now enter the 3 friends of Job who heard the calamity of Job. Seeing Job the ones who came to console wept aloud. Job’s pain became their pain. Job 2: 13 is very powerful where it says ‘Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.’ Imagine sitting with someone saying nothing for seven days. These friends were mourning with Job. This is what Paul says in Romans 12: 15 “Mourn with Those who mourn….” Ortberg says Paul is not asking us to ‘find an explanation to give them why they are suffering’ or ‘Remind them everything is going to be ok, so they can stop crying now’. He asks us to cry with the ones who are crying. That is what the friends of Job did. They gave him the ‘Gift of Silence’. They were with him. I personally believe that being silent and available is the best way of being with the people who have suffered a loss. I remember delivering two sermons in the context of death. I am sure it did not comfort the mourners. What it did was, it deeply disturbed me. My words were hollow and the hope I was giving was shallow. ‘The best way to meditate God’s presence to someone who is suffering is to sit with them in silence.’ And now we turn to Chapter 3. Here Job breaks the silence. He says “God gives, God takes, Blessed be the name of God.’ Well that is not what he says. He says “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3: 3-4). Shocking. He is actually cursing the life that he has. He is now complaining. If we read Job Chapter 3- 37, the major portion shows the complaints of Job. How is that possible? How can a faithful man complain? When one reads the Book of Psalms, we see that the Hebrew name of Psalms is Tehellim which means Praises but the single most largest category of Psalms is not that of Thanksgiving, but that of Complaining. There is no parallel to this in any other religion. Prophets complain to God, Lamentations as a book is full of complaints. Job complains in his desperation. God gives us that freedom. On the Cross Jesus also complains “My God, My God why have you forsaken me”. I am sure Tincy has a lot to complain and she should. That is her freedom. I too, am complaining. I have the right to. We do not believe in a God who is distant from his creation. We believe in a God who on the cross suffered with the creation.
What does his 3 friends along with the fourth one Elihu do? They assume to speak for God. They try to tell Job that he is suffering because of some hidden sin that he has not confessed and that is why a Just God has punished you. These friends are like the modern day Evangelists found on TV. When 2 Aeroplanes destroyed World Trade Centre on 9/11, the Tele-evengelists said that “God was punishing America for the sins of gays and lesbians.” When the recent Newtown Connecticut School shootout took place where many children lost their lives we had friends of Job raisng their voices through evangelists saying “One can expect such things if you drive God out of schools. How can he protect them?” I feel nothing is more violent than to pretend to be God. I met a man who had lost his son 3 months ago. He told me “People say ‘God gives trouble and pain to those whom he loves the most. He gives pain only to those who can handle the pain.’ They are just trying to console me. I can’t handle this pain’. In our best intentions we try to make sense by saying good words. But being with the people and praying is the most important thing.
With Tincy, Soji and I along with all the possible well-wishers and friends, grieve the death of Robinson. He was a wonderful human being, and he lives on through Evan and the memories of friendship that he has left behind. Tincy, we promise to be with you. We too do not understand why this happened. But we pray that Jesus who defeated death at the cross through Resurrection, will unite us to him again on that Beautiful shore. Amen.
P.S. Job is a Fabulous Book which deals with the issue of an innocent man suffering. I would urge you to read Job Chapter 38-41. It is simply beautiful.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church