By Curtis Shelburne: Local columnist
The Book of Job is the textbook on suffering. Open it and you’ll see an extraordinarily good man undergoing extraordinarily terrible affliction. He loses his family (except his wife, and keeping her might easily be counted among his afflictions!), his wealth and his health. He’s reduced to sitting on a pile of ashes, scraping his many sores, and praying to die. He is a picture of misery.
To add to his discomfort, Job has a visit from three “friends.” Job is in such terrible shape that they don’t even recognize him at first, but when they do, they break into such a frenzy of wailing and grief that one would think Job had already died.
In fact, I’m told that the kind of wailing they undertake is precisely the kind that happened in that culture when the undertaker had already been called! For seven days they sit viewing the not-yet-dead body of their friend, acting as if he was already dead, and then they undertake a premature post mortem of his trouble.
They speak. They shouldn’t have. These “miserable comforters” begin to debate the man they’d come to console. The question is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” Job’s friends have a quick answer: “They don’t! ‘Fess up, Job! What have you done to deserve this pain? We know that the righteous always prosper; only the wicked suffer.”
We do? No, it just doesn’t work that way, does it? One wonders what world Job’s friends had been living in. It certainly isn’t the one you and I live in.
Unfortunately, Job’s friends are still around. “Turn your life over to the Lord,” they preach, “and all of your troubles will be over. Life will be for you beautiful, rosy and probably prosperous.” And then, if life is not? “What is wrong with your faith? What sin lurks in your life?”
Maybe Job’s original friends had some excuse for their folly, but their modern counterparts who can read the New Testament should know better. They should hear the apostle Paul telling persecuted believers, “We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things.” Or they should simply look at the cross and see what the world did to the best man who ever lived.
A time of trouble is a good time to pray for stronger faith. And any time is a good time for humble self-examination.
But when trouble comes, don’t pay too much attention to Job’s friends.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at