A long time ago, when I was just starting out in ministry, a friend faced a crisis in his life. Like many of us, I had no idea what to say or how to be with him as he sobbed and cried out to God. And so I wasn’t. I left him to face his pain alone because I was ignorant and afraid myself. And I regret this to this day.
When people are truly and deeply hurting, we don’t know what they want from us, so we often avoid them. The truth is that they too usually don’t know what they want from us, but almost universally, the one thing they are sure of is that they don’t want to be alone. They want people with them, even if they don’t say a word. It’s called the Ministry of Presence, and it is one of the most powerful ministries we can offer. Occasionally words of care and love are helpful, but more often than not, words are hindrances to the real, incarnational ministry we offer by just sitting with them in listening silence.
Job’s friends understood this for a while, but then they began to show their true colors. As they opened their mouths to speak, we begin to see all the Ministry of Presence they offered Job was just to watch for an opening to give advice, and advice is one thing that grieving people universally DON’T need.
And so Eliphaz begins to talk and his presence with Job becomes a burden rather than a blessing. As he questions Job’s righteousness, he begins a theme that will last the rest of the book.
When we sit with a hurting person, it is perfectly fine to sit in silence. It is fine to ask what they might need. It is not fine, however, to question their motives, behaviors, and righteousness.