I love the book of Job. Besides the beauty of its poetry and its philosophical depth, it’s also a passionate yet darkly humorous drama about how not to be a bad friend when someone you know is suffering. Job’s friends start out all right — they sit silently with him, just being with him (sitting shiva), which is really the only thing you can do — but the fact that Job’s miserable makes them uncomfortable, and when Job finally speaks up, they don’t really hear him; they just keep trying to dismiss his misery and fit it into a little box where it will make comfortable sense to them. And it goes like this:
Job: Life sucks. Almost everyone I love just died. I’m sick. I’m in pain. This really sucks.
Eliphaz: Dude, you must have really messed up for life to punish you like this. You must have done something to deserve this.
Job: You’re not helping.
Bildad: Maybe your children messed up. THEY did something to deserve this. You can’t pick your kids.
Job: You’re not helping, either.
Zophar: Don’t worry, bro, God has a Plan. I don’t know what it is, but everything that’s happening to you is all part of his Plan. You should be happy, because it’s a really good Plan.
Job: You’re REALLY not helping. You know what, I wish I were dead.
Eliphaz: Sheesh, why can’t you just move on? Man, you’re upset and testy today. Yeah, you definitely did something to deserve this.
Bildad and Zophar: Yeah, if you were really a good person, you wouldn’t be suffering like this.
Job: You know what, now I’m pissed. Never mind dying. I shouldn’t have to deal with any of this; I want to sue God. God, get down here. I want to see you in court.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar: *gasp*
Elihu (speaking for the first time, he’s the earnest youngster): You know, I think you’re all wrong. Job didn’t do anything bad. His children didn’t do anything bad. But Job, you know, you’re kind of arrogant. I bet all this awfulness is meant to humble you and teach you something. You’re going to learn something from this. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You get knocked down and you get up again. You’re going to grow. This is a learning experience. This is a teachable moment. One day you’re going to look back at all this and go, ‘Yeah, the roof caved in and killed all my kids and grandkids, and the flocks got stolen and the crops got ruined and all that, but I learned SO MUCH, and now I’m a better man.’
Job: *just glares at him*
God: All right, who filed this lawsuit? I’m here. You want to talk? Gird up your loins and get out here. Bring it.
…See what I mean? Job is awesome. Everybody read this. Oh, and don’t be one of Job’s friends, ever. Don’t be those guys.
Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!