Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Good Friends Go Bad

Abandoned. In the weeks immediately following my husband's losing his legal career, that's how he and I both felt. Four years' worth of friendships cultivated over basketball games, luncheons, cups of coffee, and even two vacations taken together--all were immediately dissolved by friends who, in our time of hardship, chose to completely cut off all contact with us.

At that time, my husband and I compared our life to the Bible character Job, checking off one thing after another we had in common, including the worthless friends who chose to believe Job was guilty of sin rather than showing compassion on him and believing in his innocence.

Since that time, I haven't spent much time reading that particular book of the Bible, as it serves as a painful reminder of still-too-fresh events. But, a few weeks ago, God drew me there again, focusing my attention on Job's friends.

To my surprise, I read that Job's friends didn't start out all that bad. After his children are killed and all his wealth is destroyed, they come to help:

"Now when Job's three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great" (Job 2:11-13).

Isn't this the type of friend we'd like to have? A friend who would cry out to heaven and weep with us? Who would tear her clothes and cover herself with dust in mourning with us? And who would just be there in silence with us for seven days and seven nights?

These three friends started out as true Christian friends should--showing love and suffering when a friend suffers.

But after seven days, perhaps they were tired of mourning and crying with a friend when they didn't see the situation changing for the better. Or perhaps they had spent too much time wondering why this happened to Job so that they became a little afraid themselves of the seeming "randomness" of it all and needed to find a reason for the destruction.

Whatever the case, they turned on Job. The first friend, Eliphaz, quietly implied Job wasn't innocent. His words of criticism were tinged with compassion, but they were critical nonetheless: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity And those who sow trouble harvest it" (Job 4:7-8).

Perhaps emboldened by the first friend's implications, the second friend, Bildad, more boldly and bluntly told Job he was a hypocrite and that his evil deeds had caused the wrath of God to fall on him: "If you are pure and upright,Surely now He would rouse Himself for you And restore your righteous estate" (Job 8:6).

Finally, the third friend spoke even more bluntly, this time showing a complete lack of compassion as he failed to put himself in Job's place before condemining him: "For you have said, 'My teaching is pure,And I am innocent in your eyes.' But would that God might speak,And open His lips against you, And show you the secrets of wisdom!" (Job 11:4-6).

Not surprisingly, Job expressed brokenness over their treatment of his despair. Their callous behavior is even more sad considering Job called them "My brothers" (6:14). Men he once thought were true friends, as close as brothers, now he referred to as judgmental liars, heartless, cruel, and "Sorry comforters" (16:2).

Three friends--who started out strong, as brothers who suffered together--ended so badly, with God even being angered at their actions (42:7).

So what happened?

Yes, part of the friends' problem was their lack of understanding about God; they truly believed destruction and bad fortune resulted from sin and couldn't fathom what was going on in the heavenlies with God allowing Satan to sift Job, to test him. I believe Christians still suffer from this false belief, even if it's at the far recesses of their minds, the thought, "She must have done something to deserve this."

But more interestingly, I also think the problem was the friends' attention span. Yes, you heard it right--I think they had a short attention span. It's a problem I see myself and other fellow Christians suffer from, too.

It seems people in general don't have much tolerance for long-term suffering, especially when they're not the ones doing the suffering. Honestly, it's depressing to be around someone in pain. And if people mourn longer over a loss than we think they should, we grow critical and want to tell them to just "get over it." I've even heard women make comments about others' situations like, "I know ____ was terrible, but you've got to get on with your life sometime."

Sadly, though, I see our attention spans working against us in another way that harms Christian friendships. Consider when a new name is added to a prayer list. We weep, we mourn, we visit, we bring meals, we pray...but week after week, month after month, the name sits before us on the list. And before long, we find ourselves thinking of that person less and less even though their need is still great.

We have all but forgotten them.

Being a friend in Christ is a difficult task, but it is important that we realize a good friend not only is there when the going gets tough, but continues to pray, cry, visit, and mourn together when it stays tough.

No comments:

Post a Comment