Handling serious illness is one of life’s greatest challenges. The book of Job provides some insights about the vital role that friends have in caring for the seriously ill.
Job’s Friends Team Together to Minister to Him
After God allowed Satan to smite Job with “sore boils from the sole of his foot” to his head (Job 2:4-7), his three friends heard of all the hardships that he had experienced (Job 2:11a). As true friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came from their homes and chose a time when they would go to Job “to mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11b).
At a time when his family seems not to have cared for him as they ought to (Job 19:13-17; cf. 42:11), these friends came to render vital ministry to him. Even though they faced the tremendous challenge of ministering to a friend who had lost many possessions, all ten of his children, his health, and at least to some extent, the proper care of family, they did not let the fact that they were not family members stop them from going to minister to him in his extreme need.
Wisely, they decided to go minister to him as a team instead of each one seeking to minister individually to him. By going as a team, each of their strengths would have the best chance to offset whatever weaknesses they individually may have possessed so that they might best minister to Job in his time of immense affliction.
Undoubtedly, many seriously ill people today would receive vitally needed ministry if more friends would fill in the gaps where family members are not caring for their relatives, as they should. Moreover, teaming up to minister to them, they would likely provide more comfort to them than they would individually.
Ministering Comfort without Saying Anything
Seeing Job from a distance, Job’s friends were deeply moved by his plight because they were barely able to recognize him (Job 2:12). Weeping aloud, they tore their robes and threw dust on their heads.
Through these nonverbal actions of empathizing with his suffering, Job’s friends no doubt ministered some comfort to him. He could see that they were truly grieved by what had happened to their friend.
Coming to him, they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights without any of them saying anything to him because they saw that he was suffering great grief (Job 2:13). Just by being there with him for a long time, they rendered a vital ministry even without speaking at all with him.
Friends should not shy away from visiting one another in times of serious illness for fear that they might not know what to say to their suffering friends. In ways that often nothing else can, having friends around us for lengthy visits when we are hurting relieves the crushing burden of loneliness often experienced in times of deep affliction.
Exercising Great Caution in Placing Blame on Suffering People
Despite their genuine love and care for Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar ended up greatly undercutting their efforts to minister to Job because they failed to exercise great caution in blaming him for bringing his sufferings on himself (Job 4-5; 8, 11; etc.). Tragically, they became “miserable comforters” to him (Job 16:2) because they spoke wrongly of God to him (Job 42:7-8).
As friends, we can and should minister to one another vitally in times of serious illness. We must be, however, very careful in assigning blame to others for their suffering (cf. John 9:1-2).
We should also be very diligent to speak correctly about God to our suffering friends (Job 42:7-8). The book of Job provides us with a great training manual for doing so (esp. Job 38-41).
We Need to Care Properly for Our Friends Who are Seriously Ill
Many in the Church today are suffering greatly with serious physical troubles. Let us diligently heed the truths in the book of Job about the vital role of friends in caring for the seriously ill.