Helping Those Who Are Suffering

Mike Willis

From time to time, each of us has visited someone who was complaining about his situation in life. Maybe he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, was going through the trauma of a failed marriage, was the victim of a senseless crime, or some other malady. Sometimes those who go through such tragedies make some seemingly senseless statements:

“I wish I were dead.”

“I had rather be dead than go through this.”

“Why has God done this to me?”

“I see no purpose in continuing to live.”

On occasions such as this, one may be tempted to chastise the sufferer for his “blasphemous” words. Before you do, consider the words of another man who was facing some of life’s tragedies—Job. He is described by the Lord as “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Even James said about him, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Having no question about the strength of Job’s faith or perseverance, now listen to his words, as quoted from the English Standard Version:

Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, “A man is conceived.” Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it (3:3-4).

I loathe my life; I would not live forever (6:16).

I loathe my life. It is all one, therefore I say,

He (God) destroys both the blameless and the wicked (9:21-22).

Asking to meet God in court to argue his case, Job said, Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right (13:18). Why do you (God) hide your face and count me as your enemy? Will you frighten a driven leaf and pursue dry chaff? For you write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth. You put my feet in the stocks and watch all my paths; you set a limit for the soles of my feet (13:24-28).

The harsh words spoken in the first set of quotations are not worse than those spoken by Job. So what can we learn from the case of Job?

1. Suffering men say things they ought not to say. In the end of the book of Job, God confronts Job for his harsh words. God meets Job as an antagonist in court saying, Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it (40:2).

Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? (40:7-9).

Job confessed his sin saying, I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and make you make it know to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (42:2-6).

Is it not to be expected that other righteous men, like Job, might also utter words that ought not to be spoken in the midst of their agony? As I consider myself in comparison with Job, I doubt that I would endure my loads of grief and suffering any better than Job did. Indeed, one might expect of himself and others that they are likely to go through the roller coaster emotions that Job experienced when he goes through his own trials.

2. One’s friends should look beyond the words to hear what is being said! That may appear like a contradiction but it is not intended to be. When Job’s friends came to Job, for seven days they saw his miserable condition and said nothing, for whatever reason (2:11-13). In chapter three, Job vented his pent-up emotions in a strong lamentation. Job’s friends reacted to Job’s words, without reacting to what he was saying. His blasphemous words are easy to comprehend, if one will listen. Job was saying, “I am hurting! Help me!” But, his friends reacted to his words without paying attention to what he was saying. For Job, these three men were “miserable comforters” (16:2) and “worthless physicians” (13:4). He said, Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay (13:12). Their efforts to defend God were worthless. Job sarcastically replied to them saying,

No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you (12:2). I have heard many things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you (16:2-4). On the other hand, Job said, I could strengthen you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain (16:5).

When you are in the presence of some saint who gives vent to his pain in harsh words toward God, how do you react? What kind of comforter are you? Hopefully, we hear what they are saying (“I am hurting”) and provide the support they need, using our words to make their suffering easier. Rather than trying to enter with them into a theological argument about why they are suffering, which is what Job’s friends did, let us respond to their needs. These comments are not intended to minimize the blasphemous words that Job used against God. God called Job to account for his words which led Job to repent of his sinful speech. Suffering men, like all other men, must give account for their words. However, engaging one who is suffering in theological debate was not the appropriate reaction from Job’s friends. They could discuss such issues at another time; he needed their comfort and help at the time. They needed to react to Job’s suffering, to help him endure its pain..

Truth Magazine November 2011, page 2