Job snaps at Eliphaz and his other visitors—miserable comforters are you all—concluding that they are the ones with windy words (vv. 2-3). If their situations were reversed, he admits that he’d speak as they do. Being self-righteous is easy if you haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recommended, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is harder than it sounds. Projecting our own experience onto another person’s story creates conflict and miscommunication. Always making our own experiences our first reference point when we’re listening to others leads to all sorts of misunderstandings. This contributes to generational clashes between parents and children, divisions between people with opposing political opinions, or conflicts between Americans of different races.
During the O.J. Simpson murder trial twenty-five years ago, a number of polls showed that white people and black people had almost completely opposite opinions as to his guilt. Roughly 70% of white Americans thought he was guilty of his wife’s murder, while roughly 70% of black Americans thought he was not guilty. People watching the same trial viewed it through their different experiences, which influenced how they perceived the information.
Job is angry because his visitors never try to understand his story; they just try to persuade him to accept their theology.
Understanding begins with curiosity that leads us to ask questions—not to investigate, but to explore. We patiently listen as if we are receiving treasured information. Only in relationship will we be ready to connect the pieces. Seek first to understand.
How hard have you worked to understand those who are different from you?
God, create curiosity within me so I’ll listen carefully to the stories of those I encounter, especially when they are different from my own. Amen.