If you’d like to read Parts 1-4 of this series, you can do so here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Parts 2, 3, and 4 each contain two lessons gleaned from Job.
Lesson 7: Suffering People Need Comfort, Not Condemnation
I cannot fathom Job’s anguish. Then to add insult to injury, Job’s “friends” showed up. To their credit, they started off well. They simply sat down in the ashes where Job was and cried with him (2:11-13). Then they decided to open their fat mouths. From that point on, they condemn Job, provoke him to wrath, and accuse him of wrongdoing. Not only were their words false, they simply weren’t helpful, even had their accusations been true. And if that weren’t enough, amid their lies, they exalt themselves in light of Job’s suffering (19:5). Their argument went like this: Job was suffering because he had “obviously” committed some type of sin against God. Hidden behind such logic was their assertion that the reason that they weren’t suffering like Job was because they were much holier than Job.
In short, Job’s friends were neither nice nor helpful. Job called them horrible comforters (16:2). Hurting people don’t necessarily want or need an explanation for their suffering. They want you to love them and weep with them. Don’t be too harsh with suffering people, even when they make some pretty dangerous statements, like Job did many times. Adding salt to their wounds doesn’t aid their healing.
Lesson 8: There is Such a Thing as an Upright Sinner
You can be blameless before God and man and still not be sinless. Neither Job nor his friends could conceive of such a category of people. They were too black and white. Job’s friends’ argument went like this: “Seeing as how you’re suffering, you must have sinned. You can’t be blameless in light of all this ‘obvious’ judgment God has poured out on you. You must repent and God will take all this suffering away.” But that’s way too simplistic, and simply put, that’s not how God operates. God called Job’s friends to repent for arguing this way. Their logic and their conclusions (not always their direct statements) were wrong.
But Job’s categories were off, too. His logic was surprisingly similar. His argument was that since he was blameless, his suffering was completely uncalled for. Job overestimated his own righteousness. Job’s logic was that since a particular sin wasn’t the root cause of his suffering, his suffering was therefore completely groundless. The implication, then, was that God was capricious at best, unjust at worst. But both of those options were fallacies as well. Job’s thinking was also way too simplistic. Even if you’re blameless before God and man, that doesn’t mean that your suffering is pointless, uncalled for, or even unjust.
Elihu, who was not one of Job’s three infamous “friends,” described a third category of people in 36:7-15. He described them as righteous sinners. He said that when the righteous are bound in cords of affliction, God reveals to them their iniquity. God “delivers the afflicted by their afflictions” (36:15). What the righteous label as the disease turns out to be the cure to a much more heinous disease that they didn’t even know they had. (See lesson 6 from this series.) And in so revealing sin that it might be repented of and purified from the heart, God is good.
Share Your Thoughts
1. What are some practical ways to comfort suffering people well?
2. In the light of Jesus’ gospel, how is it that someone can be a sinner but still be counted righteous?