I’ve been waiting my turn to speak; the sun is setting at the edge of the wasteland here in remote Uz and the conversation is drying up. A group of friends sit around a glowing fire, each gazing in different directions. I’m here to interview Job about a series of events which have recently happened.
He grumbles as he realises I’m here.
In the unfolding drama it has become apparent that this well-loved local boy has been struggling to deal with his recent losses. All that has been valuable to him has been taken in the past days: livelihood, family and health. His wife has cracked. Now his friends are hoping to cheer him up, but nothing I’ve heard them say has helped. It seems they are lacking tact and their presence is small comfort. I pity them though; it’s hard to think of what to say when someone is hurting. I watch him scratch at his skin with a broken piece of pottery.
I want to ask about the cause of these hardships. It does all look a bit suspicious in timing and intensity. Has someone got something in for him? If so, it plays out on a bigger stage than just sheer bad luck: attackers, fire, raiders, a tornado. Job suddenly speaks up and wishes he’d never been born, so I decide not to put that line of questions to him.
Over at the river, the noise of hippos playing and snorting in the dusk draws the attention of the group.
Job shuffles his legs and looks at me with wistful eyes.
‘What do you hope for?’ I ask him. He looks up to the first stars appearing in the deep blue, over to the noisy hippos and down at his feet. Finally he answers,
‘I don’t have regular hopes any more, if I’m honest. It’s not in my hands. I’m not perfect but I don’t think I deserve this. If there’s any justification then one day I will be vindicated.’
‘Who do you think will vindicate you?’ I ask.
‘If God is big enough to create all this, he is big enough to redeem me. He is still in charge. I just wish he didn’t allow this though.’
He blinks as he wells up, starts scratching again, and I silently agree.
Things Not to Say to Suffering Friends out shortly in all good bookstores.
Lucy Marfleet is a writer and educator who tries to tell the truth in imaginative ways. She has degrees in Theology and Biblical Studies and has worked in schools and prisons. Lucy lives with her husband and two children near Cambridge and blogs at www.lucymarfleet.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucymarfleet