“What miserable comforters you are!”
We’ll get back to the above quote in a minute.
The Old Testament character, Job, (rhymes with robe) was the subject of what one author describes as a ‘cosmic wager’ between God and Satan.
Job, whom God himself had described as “blameless, a man of integrity”, was offered to Satan to test Job’s faith. After receiving permission from God, Satan did everything but kill Job. Job had no idea of the conversations between God and Satan. You can read those conversations in Job, chapters 1 & 2.
NOTE: This blog is directed at those who, like Job, have suffered due to events beyond their control i.e. diagnosed with a disease, the loss of a loved one, being laid off from work, financial strain, depression, anxiety, etc. These are the trials of life that seem to have no answers – the trials for which we cry, “God, why!” This blog is not directed at those who are suffering direct consequences for a clear wrong they’ve done i.e. you were speeding and got a ticket, you got caught in a lie, etc.
After losing his children and everything he owned, Job’s friends heard about his calamity and quickly traveled to comfort him.
For seven days they sat with him and grieved with him. No one said a word. They simply demonstrated ‘the ministry of presence’ by being with him and hurting with him.
On day 8 they opened their mouths. And, from that day forward, everything went downhill.
For 35 chapters, Job’s friends tried to ‘explain God’ and ‘help Job understand’ what brought on his misery, all the while casting onto Job shame, guilt and heartache. They bought into the traditional argument of that time: “You’re suffering pain so you must have done something to deserve it. Why don’t you just ‘fess up and admit that you have sinned horribly against God.” Job’s friends were recklessly plowing through their logic with the false assumption that innocent people never suffer. These ‘friends’ weren’t medicine, they were poison.
This is why Job exploded in chapter 16:
“What miserable comforters you are!”
Ever had those kinds of friends ‘help’ you in a time of great pain?
They can’t help themselves.
For some reason known only to themselves, they feel the need to, based on their own mere human intellect, logic and reason, impart to you their ‘wisdom and insight’ and explain why God has done the things he’s done.
Job had no clue about what had gone on ‘behind the curtain’ between God and Satan in chapters 1 and 2. And neither did his friends. But, that certainly didn’t stop them from hurting Job even further with their self-righteous counsel.
Likewise, blinded by their own misunderstanding of God, well-meaning friends today can’t see the truth any more than Job’s friends did. And that truth is: you don’t need a sermon, you need a friend.
There are many directions we could take with this story. But, let’s close with advice given by Job, himself.
Job unloaded on his friends. But, he also tried to tell them what he needed:
“Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air? What makes you keep on talking? I could say the same things [to you] if you were in my place. I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you. But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief.”
Job is telling his arrogant friends what he needs most of all. And, like the rest of the Bible, its wisdom is timeless, applying just as much today for us as it did millennia ago for Job’s friends.
Job told his friends, “Here’s how you can be a better comforter to me right now:”
1. Don’t talk just for the sake of talking. Your mere presence may be all I need right now.
2. Don’t offer me spiritual platitudes or cliche’s, or preach me a sermon.
3. Don’t accuse or criticize me. Share my load, don’t add to it.
4. Put yourself in my place. How would you feel if I were criticizing you while you suffered?
5. Offer me love and encouragement.
Epilogue & warning:
It should be noted that God was angry with Job’s friends for rushing to self-righteous conclusions based on human assumptions. He told Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends:
“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has… My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve,…”
This should serve as a a pointed reminder to always lead with love and compassion, and not judgment, when comforting a grieving friend.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick