Stop. Look. Listen.

We need to stop charging ahead on many difficult and dangerous issues.

When I told students in Lithuania, “I can pass for Lithuanian, but I feel more like a foreigner here than in Zambia, because I cannot speak the language,” they laughed. They let me know it was easy to tell I was not Lithuanian. I walked fast, upright and looked at people. Lithuanians walk slowly, looking down.

Job’s Friends

I noticed that many artists illustrate differences between where Job and his friends look. Job is looking at God. The friends are looking away from Job or accusatorially at Job, but not at God. Their theology looks elsewhere; they had earthy answers about how God works, punishing the wicked, rewarding the righteous. It is the same selfish theology as the Accuser (the “Satan”): when bad things happen, it is your fault. Repent, and God will restore. This theology uses God and abuses people.

Job’s friends had good intentions, but they did not really look at nor listen to Job. Job 2:12 states that at their arrival they saw Job, but they did not recognize him. Maybe his suffering distorted his appearance, or maybe the friends saw a problem to be answered, not a friend to be loved.
When we see problems instead of people in political, social and religious conflicts, we see a courtroom where the case needs to be argued and judged or a battlefield where we must win. How can we visualize a caring community differently?

William Blake’s illustration of Job (Tate Gallery).

Dangerous Crossings

As children we were taught to “stop, look, and listen” before making a potentially dangerous crossing. This is still good advice. We often do not see all that needs to be seen. I walk fast, remember? We are confident that we are up-right and have the right of way. We have traditions and interpretations that make the way clear and simple, even if it means passing by the hurting on the other side.

When reading Job, I see myself, my theology, my church in the friends’ eagerness for simple answers to complex questions and unknown circumstances.

Stop. Look. Listen.

On many difficult and dangerous issues, I think we need to stop charging ahead. We need to stop, look and listen more. We need to look at the person, not simply at “the problem.” We need to listen to others’ laments, questions and challenges. Do not immediately answer. Maybe we can step forward together, in unity, on a new path.

There is a difference between seeing and looking. Seeing is passively taking things in; looking is actively exploring a better way. Listening needs to be active, truly seeking to understand someone else.

Were Job’s friends seeing problems or looking at people? Were they listening to God or their own theology? Do we make others feel foreign or unwelcome in their church home?
“Be quick to hear, but deliberate in answering” (Sirach 5:11 NRSV). “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (Ps. 105:4). “Let anyone who has ears, listen.”


  • Tom Wolthuis

    Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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One Comment

  1. RE: “Lithuanians walk slowly, looking down.” Hopkins say in “Hurrahing in Harvest” . . .
    “I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
    Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
    And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
    Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?”

    Up, down: some of my indigenous acquaintances do not look me in the eye (a cultural mannerism). Some of my friends who are labelled autistic don’t look me in the eye either, looking down more often than not while finding other ways to see me and express friendship.

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