At his lowest point, Job pleads with God to die. When his three friends hear of his tragedies, they meet together and come to him to console him. With their sitting with Job in his grief for a week, Job’s friend begin well enough.
It’s when they speak in response to Job’s death-pleas that they stumble–or do they? We rightly criticize Job’s friends’ responses to Job’s suffering as insensitive, dogmatic, and theological. All Job needs is for them to understand, but they never do. Eliphaz stresses his personal experience; Bildad focuses Job on the traditions of the ancestors; Zophar sees in Job’s sufferings God’s grace in that Job gets only half of what he deserves. With friends like that, we say, who needs enemies?
But there’s another, less recognized, side to the role of Job’s friends– their social support. In their responses to Job, as we learn from Jack Kahn (Job’s Illness), they allow him to respond to each of them individually after each of them spoke. That is unusual in a group setting. Usually, two or three speakers will confront a colleague in an effort to “get through” their defenses before the person is allowed to speak in rebuttal or self-defense. That’s modern group process. But Job answers each in turn. This give Job enormous position in the group and enhances his self-esteem.
Even when they fall silent by Chapter twenty-eight, and through the several ensuing monologues: Wisdom, Elihu, The Lord, they remain in the picture until the very end (Chapter 42). In fact, I would be remiss not to note his wife’s similar presence.
In tragedy, with possible depression, how important is social support? I think we can make the case that Job survives his self-destructive impulse because his friends and wife never leave him alone. They operated on different planes, they seemed never to communicate, in fact, never to listen to him, but, in the human sense, his friends saved Job’s life.
If you are going through deep waters right now, who do you have to lean on? Where would you look to find social support to help you through your crisis?
[Image: Online Library of Liberty: William Blake, Illustrations, Plate VIII, 1823, for educational purposes only.]