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The Cost of Withholding Kindness

Calamity and adversity can come suddenly. On anyone. At any time. Consider the events surrounding the life of Job.

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it.”

Job 3.3-4

To say Job is despondent would be at best an understatement. In one brief moment, in a blink of an eye, his whole world shattered around him. In one day he lost everything. His livelihood. His servants. But the worse was yet to come. For on that very same day, his children, the apples of his eye, perished tragically. All at the hands of the Accuser.

“Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea;”

Job 6.2-3a

Yes, Job is in deep despair. Alone. His life a shipwreck. He is a self-consumer of his woes. Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes, they are insubstantial. By day, he toils without respite, and by night, he tosses endlessly until dawn. Consequently, Job was close to forsaking his fear of God.

And then we hear the discourse of his friends. Pictured as possessors of wisdom, they have come from afar to bring Job comfort and sympathy. Attempting to offer sage counsel, they in turn become simply miserable comforters. They were like the promise of a river that has turned into a dry riverbed (Job 6.15-21). Job doesn’t want them to fix his problems. He just wants some kindness.

“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.”

Job 6.14

Job needed words of relief and comfort. But that is not what he received. Instead his friends proved as disappointing as a wadi. There was no kindness to be found. Perhaps the first step in such friendships involves not saying much at all.

At times people are strange and fickle. Kind one moment and cruel the next. We see people around us at their best and their worst. We see their ugliness and their beauty. And wonder how the same thing can be both. Some live by a disheartening even troubling metric. They are of the opinion that kindness makes one weak and vulnerable and is therefore cruelty. They surmise that cruelty makes one hard, protecting them from further hurt, and is therefore kindness. For them, it becomes an ideal they aspire to. It’s the mantra that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

But there is cause to be hopeful. For you see, it is the acts of kindness that capture our hearts and restore our faith.

A man who is kind benefits himself,
but a cruel man hurts himself.

Proverbs 11.17

Maybe we aren’t cruel. I don’t believe Eliphaz, Bildad nor Zophar were. In fact, Scripture tells us they came for their friend. With good intentions (Job 2.11). But do we withhold kindness? And what cost is incurred when we do? There are times, I fear, when we offer unsolicited reproofs instead of the very thing most needed. A shoulder to cry on. Or simply lending an ear. Giving the sufferer the freedom to process extreme emotions without being corrected at every point. When we suffer, we need words of comfort not words of condemnation.

We can inflame volatile emotions. Fuel hopelessness. Miss the opportunity to help others draw near to our God. Even cause them to forsake the Almighty.

Withholding kindness? Never.

“But I was there when they needed someone. I offered personal insight as to how to recover. Isn’t that kindness?” Job’s friends were there too. And sometimes good intentions simply aren’t good enough. We offer advice at a time when perhaps it’s best that we don’t. I know I struggle mightily in such moments to find exactly what words to say. As if the sound of my voice or my shared life experiences will be just the thing needed. And yet perhaps we are arrogant in our thinking that we have all the answers for our friend. Sometimes the only sound that needs to be heard is the sound of silence. Providing comfort and solace in the midst of the unimaginable.

It’s in moments of agony and affliction that the sufferer feels lonely. There is no one to share the pain with. No one to empathize. And this loneliness can lead to the greatest cost of all: one’s anguish being directed towards the Watcher of mankind as the source for of the devastation and heartbreak. Forsaking the fear of the Almighty.

You see, the fear of the Lord is clean and wholesome, and it provides God's people with wise counsel. And fearing God means trusting Him to work in His time. Such fear can empower us to turn aside from fixing and focus instead on listening. And that is a kindness that at times can be offered by those closest to us. It’s an opportunity to help others draw near to God. Scripture speaks about the need for us to be that kind of true, godly friends with each other.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Proverbs 17.17

Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.

Proverbs 27.10

Kindness is not what we do. It’s who we are. Or rather, who we should be. It yields marvelous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us (Proverbs 21.21). And woe to us should we withhold it from those in need.

“Something we were withholding made us weak…”

Robert Frost

After we have been under the stresses of tribulation, and God has brought encouragement to us, then we have an obligation to do the same for others (2 Corinthians 1.4). Our own suffering directly benefits those we serve.

May God grant us that wise and patient friendship with each other in inexplicable suffering.