When someone close to us is suffering, we suffer as well. As their suffering increases, so does our own. Hence, the temptation grows within us to try to fix them. We often give the three friends of Job a bad rap. Note the word ‘friends’ in the following passage. They knew his family well. They were traumatised by this horrific tragedy and rushed to his side.
Job 2:11-13 (NKJV) – “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.”
For seven days and nights, these faithful friends sat on the ground next to Job. They weren’t observing his suffering to judge him; they didn’t sit afar; they were up close and personal. They tore their own robes in a symbolic act of identifying with his suffering. On a practical note, anyone with such a terrible skin affliction probably didn’t smell very good, and Job’s breath would have been foul. These friends didn’t back away. They might have flinched, but they didn’t back away.
Have you ever sat beside someone you love who is suffering? I have. I would do anything to take away their pain. As their pain intensifies and as their suffering prolongs, it becomes more and more difficult for me. There is nothing I physically can do to help them. I can’t kiss away their boo-boos. I don’t have the medical knowledge to administer medication. I can pray and pray, I do. But, in the waiting for the breakthrough, I must fight the temptation to apply human reasoning to a situation I honestly do not have a clue as to why it is happening.
Job’s friends were probably desperate to get him through and out to the other side of his suffering, and so they offered him every way out of the situation they could possibly think of.
“Repent of your sin, and maybe God will relent.” Seriously? They knew Job! He had an outstanding reputation in heaven and earth. They were reaching for straws, and both Job and God knew it.
They spoke of God’s mystery, power and magnificence, all accurate attributes of Jehovah. However, they did not speak much of God’s heart and his compassion, the attributes Job sorely needed reminding of in his suffering. Their rebuttals to Job’s lament only deepened his despair and caused him to sink deeper into mental anguish.
I am reading through the book of Job at the moment, and this quote happened to pop up on my Facebook memories suggestions this morning, which stirred me to write this blog.
Bill Johnson noted, “The friends of Job perfectly illustrate the devastation caused by misapplied truth.”
I agree with Bill’s assessment. The book of Job serves as a reminder whenever I am tempted to dole out advice to people who are suffering in ways I could never imagine. Most of the time, their pain and circumstances have nothing to do with the decisions they made. Their lives may look chaotic from the outside, and perhaps their lives are chaotic, but that chaos would be much worse if they hadn’t already taken drastic steps to step away from toxic relationships.
Economic hardships caused by unemployment or disabilities may have forced them to find housing in undesirable neighbourhoods. If they had the means, they would move elsewhere, but they simply do not have the means. They are doing the best they can do under terrible circumstances. Quite often, they carry a hidden strength that somehow keeps their head above the floodwaters that would drown many others.
And yet, we are always trying to find someone to blame when bad things happen to good people.
I’ve talked about this blaming phenomena before in regards to my disability. People have prayed for me to be healed. When I am not healed by their prayer, those who are spiritually immature search for someone to blame. They can’t blame God; they can’t blame themselves – after all, that would mean they didn’t have enough faith, so they blame me, the person they are praying for. They look for reasons with their human reasoning. “There must be unconfessed sin in your life. Perhaps you need to forgive someone. Perhaps you really don’t want to be healed…”
However, this is the truth: I was born with a progressive, genetic disease. Charcot Marie Tooth Disease embedded itself in my DNA at the moment of my conception. No sin involved, no unforgiveness, and no lack of faith. I’ve prayed for others and have seen dramatic healings as a result. I’ve learned to have patience with these spiritually immature ones, but it doesn’t mean that their well-meaning accusations do not carry with them an added sting.
When someone is suffering, go to them, and sit with them in their pain. Listen to them. Fight the temptation to defend God’s character; he is well able to protect himself. Read the last three chapters of Job if you need a reminder of that ability.
Acknowledge their suffering is valid, even if it is a suffering that you do not understand. Don’t assume their pain is of their own making. Sometimes it is. Many times, it is not.
Keep an ear open to the Holy Spirit and listen for his gentle promptings.
When he nudges you to speak, do so with all humility and compassion.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t have an answer when you don’t have a clue.
If your words don’t glisten with authentic love, hope, and genuine empathy, then don’t speak.
Respond to their heart rather than enter into a philosophical debate. Save such discussions for another time.
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All Bible verses attributed to the ESV version unless otherwise indicated.
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©2020 Katherine Walden
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