How do we respond to the suffering or struggles of those we know?
One way is to ignore it and stay away from it. We feel awkward and don’t know what to do or say – and so we keep our distance from the one who suffering. We pretend we don’t see them when we pass them. Or we feel we have to make things right for them – we have to find out why things have happened to them and help them see why so they can get through the suffering and get over it. And so when we talk to a person who lost a loved one “Don’t worry, he’s with God” or to someone who is discouraged “Don’t worry, god will take care of you”. We speak words of truth which we know should help the person. But often how we react to another who is suffering is based on our own understandings and discomfort with suffering itself . I believe this is what we are told in Job 12:5.
When we see the feet of friends slipping out from under them we feel contempt or we hate what we see happening. We loved the person and cared for him or her, we may have respected the person, but know things have changed. Perhaps we feel guilty that it wasn’t us, perhaps we feel helpless. Perhaps we need to know why. What caused the problem? Why has God allowed this to happen?
Do we see misfortune much the same way that the friends of Job did? As a withdrawal of God’s blessing from that person or perhaps even a curse. Or do we see it as a natural consequence of that person’s wrong behaviour.
As Christians we believe in God and we seek to understand Him and how He operates. As we do we build a safe package of understanding God that helps us to explain something.
When a non-believer suffers, we say see “That’s what happens when you don’t put your trust in God” or when a child of a christian doesn’t attend church, we can say “They didn’t teach Him enough” or “That shows how little god really means in that family.”
We all have a preset- packages of understanding. Makes it easy – don’t need to struggle with things – pull out an answer and can go on with easier things in life.
Like loading car for vacation and things don’t fit. It is frustrating – need to arrange so we can go on and enjoy the journey. It is especially hard to explain why those who we see as “good” Christians go through hardships. We need to find answer to explain it so we don’t shake up our faith in how God works.
Job’s friends showed contempt. They struggled with his suffering – loss of all but wife, his sores, his misery. They cared for him. They spent 7 days with him in silence listening to him groan. But after listening to him question God they could take no more. They felt they had to explain why Job was suffering. Perhaps they did so in order that Job’s suffering would end or to help him understand. They were trying to minister to him.
But as they went on, as we will see, it seemed that to explain the problem and to justify God became more important than ministering to Job. The problem that faced the three friends was their package of understanding God – one of principles of wisdom was that god punishes the wicked and blesses the righteous. This principle became an absolute law to many.
There was no such things as an innocent person suffering. Everyone knew that the prosperous people in town were righteous and the poor and afflicted were not. This was justice and since God was just, He could never fail to obey this law.
It is in this understanding of God that Job’s three friends – Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar feel they have to explain Job’s suffering – even though Job was known to them as righteous. What do they say?
Eliphaz (Job 4:7-8, 22:4-5) God only judges sinners and since his judgement is severe you must be a great sinner.
Biliad (Job 8:3-4) These are harsh words – little compassion, considering Job lost his children.
Zophar (Job 11:11, 13-15) You are wicked. Repent and all will be well.
Job’s friends have it all figured out. And much of what they say is true. So what is wrong with their ministry.
They become more and more heartless. Job is struggling deeply. Perhaps his complaints to God are unfounded and perhaps he is wrong in what he is saying but the words are very personal and deep. Zophar even calls them idle talk or babble. Nothing hurts more than calling one’s deepest hurts as nonsense. Job doesn’t need answers, he needs care and love, he needs ears to listen to him. (Job 6:14-15)
Second- if what they say is completely true, why are they not suffering as Job? Whether they mean it or not they make it sound like they are not sinners but Job is. Are we not all sinners. Should they and all of us then not suffer as Job? Often we come across (not even knowing it) as arrogant – we know more and are better than those to whom we minister. And then we loose compassion as already said.
They had not said anything Job didn’t know. The problem is not knowing the word of God but applying it and accepting it. Job believed God punishes sinners and that he had sinned but that he was still a godly person (compared to others). That’s what made it so hard.
Also, it is one thing to speak truth in love – but we do not need to argue truth. If they know – let them work it out – this is one of the hardest things for me to do. The three would not let go, they kept repeating same arguments.
We must not make truth to be more than it is. (Job 42:7) By exaggerating and making a principle a law they had put God in a package. One’s suffering is not always proportional to one’s sin. We seek to know God but no one has complete understanding of his ways. When we act as if we do, we no longer speak right about God. In the end, Job through struggles did gain understanding.
We must not make people think wrong to question God – like it is some great sin. “Friends – how dare you question God” It’s alright if we also listen to God’s answers.
We can help but answers must come from within. Each of us may think of someone who is suffering. We may not understand why, not have answers. I suggest to you that you be available to that person – – listen and care. If asked speak, speak in love but only as is helpful. (Eph 4:29)
Do we quote Scripture instead of listening? Do we provide answers to questions that are not asked or not relevant? Remember Job 6:14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” I have been guilty even in the past week of saying to much or not enough when someone was struggling. We need to be there for our friends who are going through troubles but in a loving gentle manor. Make that your challenge this week. When a friend comes to you, even a strong Christian, love and care for them not persecute them. We all sin and fall short and deserve the same love, compassion and correction, but only in a loving manor.