By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
When we read Job's story (Job 1-2) I think we can easily identify with Job. We've undergone suffering for which we had no answers for why it happened. We may have done all the right things, but ended up losing friends or family, losing jobs, or losing everything. But I fear that many Christians—myself included—can fall into a dangerous category of becoming like Job's friends.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a holy man named Job receives a heavy affliction from Satan. The devil takes away his family, his home, his earnings, his servants, his cattle, and even his health. He develops a painful disease where all shun the very sight of him.
To make matters worse, in Job's culture, an idea ran rampant that if disaster befell you, you did something to tick off a divine power.
So when his friends step on the scene, they do the right thing at first. They sit with him in silence and mourn along with him.
But then they veer off the path...
Suddenly, according to them, Job was at fault for everything that happened to him. They drill him for chapter upon chapter about some hidden sin he must've committed to have invoked the wrath of God. They speak to him in a holier than thou sense and give him as much advice as they possibly can for how Job can right himself with God.
At the end of the story, God restores Job's fortunes, but God has quite the chastisement for Job's friends during this.
Job 42:7-9: "After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job's prayer."
Yikes. Job has to do an animal sacrifice to prevent God from unleashing his full fury on Job's friends.
We jeer at these men for their folly, but how often do we look just like them? Below I've laid out a few tests to determine if we've become like Job's friends, and how to stop heading down that path.
Test #1: You HAVE to Give Advice Every Time a Brother or Sister Suffers
When someone posts about their dealings with depression, miscarriage, job loss, etc., do you simply listen to understand their situation? Or do you immediately hop into the comments and say things like, "Trust God more." "Pray more." "Read your Bible more."
These are all wonderful things and should be practiced by believers. But commenting such things while a person drowns in hurt often does more harm than good.
Instead: Listen. Truly understand what a person has gone through. Even if you do have a solution at the ready, make sure you fully comprehend why that person may not go with that solution right away. Or better yet, consider they may have "prayed more" or "trusted God more" and God has not chosen to ease the thorn out of their side yet.
Test #2: You Wait for the Person to Finish Speaking so You Can Talk Immediately After
If you take a look at the book of Job, Job tries to defend his case (whilst nursing physical and severe emotional wounds) against the barrage of attacks from his friends. It seems that one person after another waits for Job to finish speaking just so they can simply insert their two cents seconds later.
We may have some perspective to help offer the person, but we do not know their pain on a personal level. Even if we've experienced something similar, we are not in their exact situation.
Instead: Really reflect and meditate. Ask God for the right words to say. Sometimes God may require silence so you can sit with them as they hurt. You don't always need to say something to help your friend heal. In fact, many times, fewer words can provide a better balm (Proverbs 17:27).
Test #3: You Assume They Did Something Wrong to Land Themselves in This Situation
You may immediately push back and say, "Of course I don't think they did something wrong."
But how often do we say phrases like:
"You just need to shift your perspective and appreciate everything God has given you." "You need to pray more." "Spend more time with God today."
These statements, although inherently good in practice, imply that the person has not spent enough time with God or has not shifted their perspective, and therefore, they suffer.
I do need to add the caveat that some sins do have consequences. But when someone hurts, they don't need someone wagging a finger in their face saying, "You caused this to happen." They need someone to wrap their arms around them and say, "I'm sorry it hurts."
Instead: Assume—unless you are intimately familiar with the details of the situation—that they did all the right things and that God had not provided an instant way out. Scripture promises we will endure trials and suffering. Life hurts. A lot. Sit with them in the pain and ask how you can help. Sometimes the act of sitting with them alone can help in the healing process.
We don't often place ourselves in the roles of Job's friends. But if we truly exercised honesty with ourselves, I think we'd see ourselves fitting that mold far more often than we'd like. But we can avoid becoming like them by extending grace, listening, and assuming goodwill on behalf of our suffering friend.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.