We all relish the roles we play. And those roles are inherently relational.
I am a mother in relation to my child; a wife in relation to my husband. I am a parishioner in relation to my church. I have been a volunteer in relation to my favorite charities; and a mental health advocate in my relationship to mental illness.
The roles we play are not the only ones that matter to us. We take serious interest in the roles other people play.
And we get aggravated, confused, betrayed, judgmental, condescending when a person with whom we are in relationship steps outside the binds of how we define their role.
Job stepped out of the role of wealthiest man alive when God allowed Satan to take his possessions.
He was removed from the role of diligent, godly father when though he sacrificed regularly for his children’s sins, a roof collapsed on them at a party, killing them all!
He no longer filled the role of most admirable elder on the board when he was stricken with a grotesque, oozing, unclean skin disease.
And, other than his wife, the people who were the most absolutely unhinged by his change in status were his own friends. The ones who had in pretense come to sit shiva with him in his mourning, were really there to feel out how far the previous object of their envy had fallen.
This is the bee I think had gotten into their bonnets: They were entirely restless in their spirits over “why” these terrible things happened to Job. And whether it could happen to them.
“Why” is nearly its own evil spirit in moments of tragedy. It’s a question that can all by itself open a person up to years’ worth of unbelief and bitterness that they will have to back peddle through…and this has a great amount to do with who it was they were talking to about this “why” and what that consoler said to them– the conversation that friend/foe entertained with them in their weakest moments.
“Why” is such an explosive topic of mournful conversation because in times of trial it is impossible to ask “why” without entering into an emotional encounter with your own theology.
One of the ways that we harm each other in conversation is in irresponsibly discussing and defining God’s “role” in our personal devastation.
The Book of Job is defined by idle chatter in that the whole book is one laborious conversation between a handful of men discussing “why” something happened to one of them, and what the answer to that question implied about Job, and about God.
Job and his friends played the role of the Pious believing that God played the role of Appeased. They seemed to mostly overlook Satan’s role as Accuser. Job understood the need for someone to one day play the role of Advocate.
The problem with trying to assign roles in the spirit is that God is sovereign. And unequaled.
Satan is reliably the Accuser of the Brethren. We are reliably sifted and shifting in our faith through life’s bumps and bruises.
But the greatest challenge to our belief, is that God is not reliable– He does not fit reliably into a “role” for us.
Though unchanging, He is sovereign, meaning He is not beholden to us to be who and how we thought He was.
In theological rumination, we ask, “Who are You, God?” And He says, “I am.”
In pain, we ask, “Where were You, God?” And He says, “I was.”
In frustration, we cry out, “Won’t You do something?!” And He says, “I’ll do some thing.”
He’s not reliable; He’s wonderful.
The wonder of God is what Job gets to experience in chapters 38-41: “Then the Lord spoke to Job from out of the storm…” Job 38:1.
But God never did answer “why”– not to Job nor to his unproductive, pseudo-spiritual, self-concerned companions.
“Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” Job’s friends asked him; implying: “We are innocent and safe from this terrible onslaught of misfortune; you however are not.”
When we, as friends/ministers/mourners go to comfort another in their distress, we. have. to. check our self-interest at the door, because their is a fragile psyche in that house that needs you to be responsible with the theology you entertain with them.
It’s hard to do.
None of us want to play the role of Job.
None of us want to find out about how wonderful God is through the trials of Job.
So we talk our way up, over, around, and through God’s sovereignty, not in compassion, but in fear.
And it ends up, that our friends would have been better off if we had never showed up for them at all.