In life there are times that we use some pretty strong words (phrases) to convey a message. They can come from a place of anger or frustration, “I hate…” is commonly used and can conjure up hurt feelings or convey a dislike of particular foods like, “I hate peanut butter”. The contrasting phrase would be “I love”, which is also strong and holds some powerful and beautiful nuances (except when it comes to peanut butter of course).
I was feeling a little discouraged this past week as I read through the book of Job. I was looking for patterns of biblical community and how they might help me understand and better live in community with others. Forty-two chapters later I didn’t have much to go on. Then, as I re-read through different passages, I stumbled on chapter 16 and found a powerful example of what community is not. Job uses some strong words in response to his friend’s attempts to comfort him, “You miserable comforters, all of you… Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (Job 16:2&3) Earlier in chapter 13:4 he calls them “worthless physicians”. I believe that Job’s friends came with good intentions, they left from their homes to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). So what happened? Jobs friends seemed to only bring more pain to the situation, they thought they had all the answers. Rather than brining comfort, they openly criticized him, assuming they knew why he was suffering.
What lessons can we learn about living in community from this exchange? Comfort (love, encouragement, sympathy, support, reassurance) is the cornerstone of community. Job clearly explains that what he was getting from his friends was far from comfort. Living in community we must have the presence of mind to stop and listen, encourage, listen, pray, listen (I think you get the point). The function of community is to build each other up not tear each other down, to live in unity. Job’s story, his life, helps us to see that our faith must stay true to our heavenly father no matter the circumstances. Easy to say, hard to comprehend and seemingly impossible to live in hard times. True community with others and God is born out of love for one another.