Sometimes it’s better just to listen

Job 21:2-3
(2)  Hear diligently my speech, and let this be your consolations.
(3)  Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on.

There’s an adage in medicine that says: “Listen to the patient long enough and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.” It’s an admonition to refrain from diagnosing too soon. Because if you go in assuming you already know the answer before you’ve completely heard the problem, you might come to the wrong diagnosis.

When Job’s friends heard that he was in trouble, they came to visit with him. The best thing they did for him was to sit in silence. Then they opened their mouths and made things worse. In our passage, Job is pleading with his friends to just hear him out, but they’ve decided they already know his problem and that they have the answer. Their premise is that Job is suffering these calamities because he’s sinned in some way. His friends even have lists of transgressions he’s supposedly committed and there’s no proof of any of them. Because they are starting from a false premise, they are providing faulty counsel even though what they are saying sounds like truth.

Job’s trials were not the result of sin on Job’s part. He acknowledges he is a sinner, but there is no specific transgression that Job can name to explain what is happening to him. In that sense he is innocent, but his friends’ logic insists: “He must be guilty. Otherwise, why is all this happening to him?”

Not all trials are the result of sin. Many are trials that God sends our way to prove and to mature us because there are some things about our relationship with God that can only be understood through trials. If you’ve ever known anyone who has gone through Marine boot camp, they will tell you that it is not summer camp. The whole time you’re there, they are putting you through trials and tribulations. Why? Because they need to break you down in order to build you back up into a Marine.

Job was suffering that kind of trial. In the end, he would have a deeper knowledge of God than when he started. What Job needed through this was not free advice. What he needed from his friends was a listening ear. When we have friends who are enduring unspeakable hardships, sometimes the best thing we can do is to not speak, just listen. Will that suffering friend say some outlandish things? Probably. Will giving them advice while they’re emotionally overwrought be helpful? Probably not. Sometimes people who are hurting just need a sounding board to work through their heartache. Sometimes, it’s better just to listen.

[Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash]

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