So, this past Sunday I was the on-call chaplain at the hospital. The Sunday on-call, in addition to typical chaplain duties, also leads two chapel services. So, naturally, I had to prepare a sermon. I more or less follow the Revised Common Lectionary; but, I am a Baptist after all, so I reserve the right to reject the establishment whenever I feel like it. So, I tweaked some parts of the reading and decided to do my sermon on Job 2. The Power of Presence. Good title, right? It was too bad there were no bulletins or anything, so nobody in the congregation saw the title unless they looked at where it was scrawled across the top of my notes. But, it didn’t really matter, because I never got to preach. I was halfway through the Psalm reading when my phone starts going off in my pocket. I was really hoping it was just one of my friends asking why I wasn’t at church. No such luck. I was needed in ICU to work a case that wound up lasting well into the afternoon. So, my sermon never saw the light of day, although, it really could be said that I practiced what I never got to preach. All the same, since I really kinda liked the message that I almost delivered, I thought I’d share a brief version of it here. Still a bit of a lengthy read, but stay with me. So, on to Job…
In the beginning of the Book of Job, we see a man who’s got it all. One of the greatest people of the East, apparently. Then, suddenly, he lost it all. He lost all of his animals, and may I just say that the guys that stole those camels deserve some credit because stealing 3,000 camels (Job 1:3) is no small feat. But, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Job also loses all his children at once when a house collapses on them. Then, he himself is struck with a skin ailment which covers him in sores all over his body. So, to say the least, Job was having a pretty rough stretch there.
Now, at this point, Job’s wife speaks up and asks him “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, ESV). Job then responds with the well-known retort of, “well, if you take the good from God, you might as well take the bad.” Often, this is seen as an example of how we should handle hardship. Job’s wife provides the all-too-rash response of just wanting to give up, and is often seen as an envoy of Satan, trying to weaken Job’s resolve. Meanwhile, her husband provides her with the voice of reason. However, when I look at this exchange, I just see two different people who process grief in two different ways. Yes, Job is the main character in this narrative, but that doesn’t mean that his wife isn’t experiencing the pain of loss. She has also just lost her children, her “sons and daughters, [her] womb’s birth pangs and labors” (Job 2:9b, Septuagint, alt English translation can be found here). Now she’s seeing her husband experiencing so much pain from this skin ailment. Her reaction could simply be one of exasperation: “We have endured so much pain, how can you possibly bear to go on?” She is not trying to undermine Job’s righteousness; she merely wants to see an end to the suffering of her family.
At this point in chapter 2, we hear of Job’s friends coming to visit him. They came to show him sympathy and comfort. When they saw Job in the state that he was in, they began to weep. Then, they “sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:13) They travel all this way to show their friend sympathy, and then just sit with him without saying a word. This seems a little strange on the surface. This also brings me to my main point. We often assume that, when we are visiting someone who is suffering, they want us to say some magic word that will make it all better. We fear silence. In actuality, we need to embrace these silences.
What, then, do we do? How do we provide comfort to those whose suffering is greater than we can understand?
Just being there. Your presence alone will speak volumes more than your words ever could. When you’re suffering is so great, sometimes nothing could be more comforting than just to know that you are not alone and that you are loved.
So, next time you see one of your friends having a rough day and you’re at a loss for words of comfort, don’t worry about it. Just put a hand on his shoulder, let him know he’s not alone in the world. As my dad has told me before, “We can handle just about anything; just so long as we know we don’t have to do it alone.”