“I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:1). How often can we resonate with Job in our times of turmoil? We all have that one friend who offers advice that is less than helpful, and more often hurtful.
You know the one, the one with an answer for every situation that doesn’t actually answer the problem.
However, if we are honest, we may just as often be that person ourselves. We may not intend to be, but it’s in many of our nature as humans to try and solve problems. We see someone hurting, so we try to solve their hurt. However, we all know that this advice is not always beneficial. There are surely times to give advice, but not every answer, no matter how right it may be, needs to be spoken at that moment.
This was part of Job’s problem as he was taking time to grieve his loss and wrestle with his feelings, Job’s friends offer no comfort, instead they give him only more heartache. They were “worthless physicians” (Job 13:4) that did not heal but only torment, something that we may be prone to do as well. So here are a few considerations courtesy of Job’s friends to keep in mind.
Don’t Share Unhelpful Truths
Much of what Job’s friends said were, in some way, correct (or at least teetering on correct). For example, it is true that, in all actuality, we as humans deserve much worse than what we get. It should be more shocking that we get away with so much rather than the reality of what we have. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, we deserve nothing short of hell and eternal punishment for our sins. It is only by grace that we are not immediately cast off.
Those statements may be true, but in the midst of suffering, they are exceedingly unhelpful and take on a measure of falsehood. In Job 11, that is what his friend Zophar does. When you are trying to comfort someone saying things like this, or “other people have it worse” does nothing to lift them out of the darkness or point them towards Christ. All it does is show them that they are in darkness, which they already know. There are times and places that these truths must be shared, and there are times when they should not be as well.
Avoid the “I Know Better” Attitude
In Job 12:3, Job says “but I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these”. Often in tough situations, it is good to remind people of the simple truths of the Gospel and of who God is. In fact, at all times we need to be reminded of the simple truths of the Gospel. However, there is a clear difference between reminding and calling someone to look up to Christ, and preaching down to them as if they don’t understand or know these basic truths (assuming they do).
What Job’s friends were doing was condescending. They were attacking Job and his knowledge of God all the while acting as if they knew the cause and truth behind the situation. They danced around with their words and were attempting to justify God and condemn Job. That is not how we should act in these situations. Rather, we point to God as the justifier and comforter. We sit humbly and graciously remind.
Know When to Stop Talking
Job’s friends did the right thing at first. They sat and grieved with their friend for seven days. They sat and were just with their friend. And then Eliphaz spoke and everything went downhill from there. For Job’s friends, they should have never started talking, but they should have also have gotten the message to stop.
By the end of all their speeches, Job was looking at his friends and asking them “how then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood” (Job 21:34). His friends were speaking without saying anything. They were answering a question that they did not know the answer to, but were acting like they did. This is a problem that I suspect plagues many of us when giving counsel (it does me at least). We don’t need to provide an answer for every situation.
What to do
So then, is the answer to helping people to do nothing? Absolutely not! Instead, we need to look to the example of Elihu and of God Himself. Job’s friends were telling Job to look in himself to see what the problem is and how to solve it, which at times may be necessary, we do need to examine ourselves for sin and make sure we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, the end goal is not ourselves, it’s God. We need to look to Him. When there is suffering, we need to point back to God.
Now, this does not mean that we don’t use other techniques and write them off as unbiblical. In some situations, people who are suffering need to go see a professional counselor. Rather, it means that we make sure that the ultimate focus is God. Psychology can be useful, advice can be useful, just sitting in silence can be useful, but they are all insufficient and harmful without God being the goal.
Our goal is not to justify God or to explain why evil exists in these moments of suffering. In the midst of Job’s suffering, God called him to look up towards Him and trust Him. Now, that is not easy to do, but if we want any chance at real comfort for ourselves and others, to God we must point.
Suffering needs to be dealt with carefully. We need to be loving and Biblical in how we help those in turmoil. We can easily utter what we don’t understand, and talk about what we do not know (Job 42:3) and do nothing but confuse and hurt. Or, we can point to God, the one who has the power to heal and is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).