If ever a man needed comforting friends, it was Job. The troubles that befell this godly man are well known. We also are acquainted with his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. To their credit, they came to Job, wanting to help. But their value soon took a downward turn. Before long, Job referred to them as “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2, NKJV).
Through experience and hearsay, we’ve all encountered miserable comforters. They’re usually people who mean well; most of the time they consider themselves Christians. But instead of healing the soul of the sufferer, they leave greater pain in their wake. What went wrong? Can we learn anything from Job’s friends?
First, they made harsh judgments about why Job suffered. Zophar’s statement in Job 11:6 is representative of their attitude: ” … Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves.” Job never claimed to be perfect, but he knew he had been faithful to God. Thus, his friends’ judgments piled discouragement on top of grief. How much better if they had not tried to explain why these terrible things had happened!
How many well-intentioned souls have made judgments in the aftermath of a trial? But do we really understand the situation well enough to make such conclusions? Are all facts surrounding the matter in our grasp? “Judge not, that you be not judged” advised the Lord in Matthew 7:1. In situations like Job’s, that’s advice we need to heed.
Second, they failed to strengthen their friend. In 16:4,5 Job spoke of what would have helped him during his anguish: “I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my head at you; but I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief.” His friends, however, didn’t think to show compassion and encouragement. They were too busy “fixing” Job’s problems!
After an illness takes a loved one, it’s too late to speak of a more preferable lifestyle. There’s a time to preach, but the days of mourning are not that time. How much better to speak words of hope and promise. That’s what our friends need as they hurt.
Third, they spoke when they should have been silent. Job was undoubtedly heartened to see his friends approaching. But after their thoughtless speeches, he was driven to exclaim, “Oh, that you would be silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (Job 13:5) Just their presence meant much to God’s servant. But when their mouths spewed unwise counsel, they became a burden.
A silent presence means more than one who blathers on, attempting to show wisdom and insight when they have neither. Though many are uncomfortable with the concept of silence, it’s often the best course. There are times when we should let our hearts speak. Tears, smiles, and embraces are more effective at healing than pointed observations.
This book is rightly classified as “wisdom literature.” Let us learn even from the examples of those who did foolishly.
How to help those who grieve