Scripture Reading: Job 3-4 ...
Have you ever longed for a word of comfort or encouragement from someone ... anyone, only to have a friend or someone else come and speak to you and then wish they would just ... be quiet?! That must be how Job felt when his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar came to visit him. Job had just weathered what was perhaps the worst string of “bad luck” any man has ever faced in such a rapid-fire sequence. He had just lost his ten children and the bulk of his multitude of possessions. Then he was struck with painful sores from head to toe and his wife had told him that he should just "curse God and die!" (2:10). Can someone give a good word to Job?
In spite of all of this, Job still responded by saying, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10). And we are told, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” Enter Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Apparently, they had heard of Job's calamities and they set out to go and sympathize with him and to comfort him. Of course, we know that God was already deeply engaged in Job's life and in his present circumstances. And Job knew that God had not abandoned him. Though he did not know all of what was going on “behind the scenes,” he believed God was still at work and in control of his circumstances. What Job needed was someone to agree with him, to confirm the basis of his faith in God.
What he got, however, was something quite different. The friendly trio were astonished when they saw Job because they hardly recognized him. It was the moment of decision: What should they do? What should they say? Their conclusion: Weep, groan, mourn ... and say ... nothing ... And this was supposed to help - how? Sympathy, empathy and compassion are all good things, but people who are going through extreme trials need TRUTH! Job knew God. His friends knew that he knew God. So they should have prayed with him, comforted him by testifying to God's faithfulness, encouraged him to keep trusting in the Lord - all of the above! But instead they dug a hole of despair for Job and then proceeded to throw him in, saying absolutely nothing to point him to the hope that could have been his through faith in the God he knew.
When seeking to comfort believers far too many people today use the same tactics. Rather than using God’s Word to encourage the person who is going through trials, they add to their sorrow by making them feel like helpless victims of some tragic fate that is somehow beyond God’s control. When facing trials there is already a temptation to feel sorry for ourselves and to think that nobody understands. We don’t need others to reinforce our feelings of being victims of the evil in the world. Compassion for those who are suffering includes speaking truth and praying truth, trusting that God’s will is to use the suffering and trial for good and not for evil. Remember, our God reigns!!
Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth are instructive: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Note that God does not say He will always remove the temptation, but He WILL provide the strength to endure, to persevere. And what is that “way?” Faith!! Trust in the God who IS faithful and who keeps His promises.
The result of his friends’ weeping and silence for seven days was like digging a hole and throwing Job in it. “Woe is Job!” So Job simply joins in their grieving, saying, "Woe is ME!" Here are three words that should never be spoken by a believer. The entire third chapter is an extended whining session allowed to go on for much too long. Job declares that it would have been better if he had never been born, or if he had been stillborn. Then at least he would have peace.
It is only when Job expresses what his three friends apparently expected him to express that Eliphaz speaks. Now, it should be said that throughout the conversation between Job and his three friends, a number of true things are said about God and how He works and even concerning Job and his situation. But mixed with these moments are many false assumptions and inaccurate statements that confuse and distort what is actually happening in Job's life. Bad theology always misleads people and leaves them in doubt and confusion.
Eliphaz declares that he has never seen the righteous suffer like Job is suffering. Rather, it is the evil who perish. In chapter 4, verses 12-17, it seems as though Eliphaz is claiming to have heard a word from a spirit: "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?" (4:17). And he then goes on to virtually accuse Job of sin and weakness. If God has no trust in his servants and charges his angels with error, "how much more those who live in houses of clay (Job), whose foundations are in the dust, who are crushed more readily than a moth?" (4:18-19). And in verses 20-21 he predicts such men will perish and die without wisdom.
Wow! Thanks, Eliphaz!! First you say nothing, grieving and wailing as though Job was already dead, and then when Job really needs you to correct and encourage him, you judge him guilty of wrongdoing and leave him with no hope. As the old saying goes, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
Learn from Job's friends what NOT to do in a situation where a fellow believer is going through extreme trials. I think of the words of Paul to the Corinthians when he writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (II Corinthians 1:3-4 ... see also verses 5-7, and 4:8-9). There are many other verses in Scripture that are helpful to share with those who are going through trials and suffering.
Speak in these situations, but be sure that what you are speaking is a truly GOD’s Word! Compassion is one thing; pity is another. We need each other, so be ready to be an instrument of healing and God will use you to lift others up - not push them into a hole of despair!
"Father, give me wisdom to speak Your Word to those who suffer, that they may receive the same comfort you have given me in times of trouble and be encouraged to trust in You, our faithful God! In Jesus' name, Amen"