Lessons From the Old Testament: How NOT to Counsel People in Pain

Job’s “friends” did a masterful job of comforting Job those first seven days (see article).  But when Job broke the silence (Job 3) and began to rue the day of his birth, their demeanor and their comfort changed radically.  Even well-meaning comforters may become enemy-like abusers when they see their own faith or comfort at stake.

Eliphaz gets the ball rolling in chapter 4.  He starts by offering Job advice that he did not ask for, always a disrespectful move (Even Jesus did not do that).  Then he accuses Job of failing to take his own advice about how to handle suffering.  What possible benefit could this be to one in pain?  Can we shame someone who is hurting into not hurting anymore?  And so what if this person comforted others who were in pain?  Being is pain is very much different from helping others in pain.  This is one facet of comforting that Job’s friends are unwilling to take into account.  The person who is hurting is not always rational or consistent in their thinking.  Pain detracts from one’s ability to focus clearly at times and causes even the most saintly of believers to struggle with doubt and fear.

Eliphaz also lobs the first hand-grenade in what becomes a battle between Job and his friends.  He asserts that Job would not be suffering if he had been innocent (4:7-9).  Repeatedly, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar attack Job’s integrity, arguing that God would not allow Job to suffer so if there were not sin in his life that required discipline.  Job contends that he is innocent (not perfect, but not guilty of some infraction that should bring such wrath).  And Job has God on his side (1:8).  Why would Job’s friends insist on this issue, despite the protestations of Job and despite any real evidence of their accusations?

Job himself gives us some answers.  In 12:5 he says, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.”  It is a temptation for all who are at ease to suppose they have avoided misfortune because they are in God’s favor.  And it is a further temptation to see ourselves as better then than those who are hurting.  We can pat ourselves on the back like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like that tax-collector or some other sinner (Luke 18:9-14).  Job begs for pity from his friends (19:21), but there is none, and the reason for this becomes clear.

Job puts his finger on the real issue.  “You see something dreadful,” he asserts, “and are afraid” (6:21).  What are Job’s friends afraid of, and what are we afraid of that we are unwilling to show grace to those who are suffering?  They and we are afraid that if someone who is righteous can suffer like Job did, then we ourselves have no guarantee that we will not suffer the same way.  We want the formula to work for us, not against us.  We want God to play to our tune.  If we’re righteous, we expect Him to bless us unremittingly.  We fear the sovereignty of God and His freedom to act in our lives as He decides.  We want a vending machine God who is predictable and controllable.

And until we see this reality in ourselves and repent of it, as Job did, we will not be much comfort to others.  We will be desperate to take away their pain.  We will be desperate to have an explanation for their suffering.  We will respond with platitudes and nonsense.  We will be Job’s counselors.

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6 thoughts on “Lessons From the Old Testament: How NOT to Counsel People in Pain

    1. I’d a debate having a friend who’s married on infidelity. She states she’s not a problem by using it that her husband has been doing many occasions. Things I am trying to puzzle out is the reason why she’s permitting him to do this. I expressed to her that just how can she even feel loved by him. Anyway I must understand what every ones opinions take presctiption INFIDELITY.

  1. It sounds like you are saying your friend has entered into adulterous relationships and feels no remorse about it because her husband has done the same thing many times. You are having a hard time understanding why she would allow him to do this and why, I’m assuming, she would stay married to him when he doesn’t love her. I would suggest that there are benefits to staying married that have nothing to do with being loved. But I would say that both of them are disrespecting their marriage and the vows they presumably made to one another and to God. They are using other people for romantic purposes. None of this is kind or loving.

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