17. Needs within Despair

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 17

Job 6:14 A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.

Our opening verse today sums up what follows. Job has just expressed his sense if inability to help himself. This is an important point for those of us who would call ourselves ‘friends’ or even ‘comforters’. In the depths of despair, our friend feels utterly unable to do anything about it. I have rarely experienced depression, but on the odd occasion when it has occurred, I have been aware that there was no point someone saying to me, “Come on, snap out of it!” You just feel utterly incapable of doing anything that will change what you feel. Now that may not be so in reality but that is what you ‘feel’ at that point. Job identifies himself as a ‘despairing man’. That is what he feels – despair – a sense of utter loss and hopelessness. Have you realised that these studies are not only about how to be a comforter, but also about the depths that human experience can go to?

What is Job’s primary need in this state of despair? Devotion of his friends! What does devotion mean in this context? It means stick-ability! The ability to stay close to our friend! Now that needs thinking about. Our friend has gone down into the depths of despair and they feel alone, utterly isolated in their blackness. What they need is a sense of someone alongside them, there in the blackness, someone who understands it and is there for them, utterly accepting and without judgment. I have commented before about a girl I knew who was in the depths of mental illness, in the blackness of utter confusion, and yet, as I related to her, I sensed the presence of the Lord with her, right there in the midst of that confusion, a loving, caring and accepting Presence, there for her. Can we be Jesus to our friend in these circumstances? Only with the grace and enabling of God!

That is what Job needs, but what has he received? See how he continues. He paints a vivid picture: “But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that cease to flow in the dry season, and in the heat vanish from their channels.” (v.15-17) Oh, what a condemnation of us perhaps! My brothers are undependable. Job wants people he can depend upon, people who will always be there for him, but they are not like that, these ‘friends’. They are, he says, like streams that get filled and deep in the winter but in the summer dry up and disappear.

He paints the picture some more: “Caravans turn aside from their routes; they go up into the wasteland and perish. The caravans of Tema look for water, the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.” (v.18,19) He imagines Arab caravans in the wilderness, searching desperately for water in these streams, but there is done, just like he’s searching desperately for a life-giving resource in his friends. He sees how those Arab traders respond to their plight: “They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed,” (v.20) just like he had been. When his friends had turned up there had been confident hope, but as Eliphaz started out, he was disappointed. He concludes: “Now you too have proved to be of no help; you see something dreadful and are afraid.” (v.21). They had come and seen him and saw him as ‘ something dreadful’ and their hearts fell and they were fearful. What, they thought, had happened to him? What had God done to him? And they jumped to wrong conclusions.

As he thinks about this, he muses, what have I ever asked from you except simple friendship: “Have I ever said, `Give something on my behalf, pay a ransom for me from your wealth, deliver me from the hand of the enemy, ransom me from the clutches of the ruthless’?” (v.22,23). Had he ever made demands of them that required them to pay out, or come to his aid against enemies? No, never. He only asked for simple, accepting friendship. Look, he says, I’m open for you to show me if I am genuinely wrong: “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.” (v.24). I realise that honest words can be painful, but I’ve listened to what you’ve said and you prove nothing: “How painful are honest words! But what do your arguments prove?” (v.25) Why are you bothering to try and correct the words of a despairing man, words which you want to write off as just meaningless like wind : “Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?” (v.26). This seems so heartless that you give me the impression that, “You would even cast lots for the fatherless and barter away your friend.” (v.27).

And then he makes a final plea: “But now be so kind as to look at me. Would I lie to your face?” (v.28) Please, look me in the face. I’m trying to be honest, I wouldn’t lie to you, I would tell you if I had sinned (implied). He goes on, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.” (v.29). Please, step back from this stand you’ve taken against me, be fair, because this is my integrity and my reputation you are talking about here. And finally, “Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?” (v.30) Please, listen carefully. Am I saying anything that is patently wicked? Have I not always been careful what I say, please be gentle with me!

These are the pleas of this man of integrity whose only ‘sin’ is to be in the midst of immense suffering for apparently no reason. The reason, as we had the privilege of seeing, is that he is going through God’s testing process, but it’s a process that doesn’t only test him; it also tests his three friends! If we are such a ‘friend’ we need to realise that when our friends are in trouble, it is also a test for us!

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