Do you remember the story of Job’s comforters? You can read all about that in the book of Job. Their names were Zophar, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Elihu. Their discussion with Job in the midst of the anguish of his sufferings lasts for 29 chapters of the book of Job!
These were people who had been friends of Job before his time of testing began. They were unaccustomed to Job speaking with this level of raw angst. Instead of listening and understanding where he was coming from then responding with lots of gracious encouragement and loving exhortation, they judged him and accused him of bringing his own troubles upon himself! No wonder “Job’s Comforters” are renowned – if you have friends like this, who needs enemies?
When we are going through intense hardships there are 2 groups who can fall into this category of being Job’s Comforters. One is literal people who have the audacity to judge you as if they are God’s representatives. The second is the group of voices in your own head, accusing you and shaming you. These inner voices are fueled by our adversary the devil himself.
Here is Job’s defense to his “friends”:
“Then Job defended himself:” I’ve had all I can take of your talk. What a bunch of miserable comforters! Is there no end to your windbag speeches? What’s your problem that you go on and on like this? If you were in my shoes, I could talk just like you. I could put together a terrific harangue and really let you have it. But I’d never do that. I’d console and comfort, make things better, not worse! Job 16:1-5 MSG
When someone is suffering, they are vulnerable. They say things out of desperation that are sometimes emotional, imbalanced, gut-wrenching. Just read the book of Job – it’s full of examples! But what a person needs at that time is to be comforted and encouraged, not judged like Job’s friends did to him. If suffering is a consequence of a person’s sin, like someone who has a wreck when they are DUI, still they first need comfort from those who love them.
Job’s friends did not understand the grace of God. They didn’t know about the conversation Satan had with God that led to this test being allowed. They drew a conclusion from their limited knowledge, that this must certainly be a cause-and-effect situation. ‘You must be reaping what you’ve sown’, in other words.
There aren’t very many people who have the audacity to say such things anymore. In our society there’s a greater consciousness of giving comfort to the hurting. But in religious circles there’s a greater risk of this type of thing happening.
I never had anyone directly say that to me when I was going through my Job years. There were a couple people who implied it though.
What I struggled with more were the inner voices condemning and shaming me. There’s something that just gets uncorked inside you and the big question just bubbles up, “Did I do something to deserve this?” When you feel bad, beaten down, in pain, shaming thoughts rise up, adding insult to injury. There’s a slight shift from “this is bad” to “I am bad”.
At the beginning of my season of testing, the Lord said to me, “Your former equations will no longer add up. I’m giving you new understanding about many things. There is no earning or deserving.”
I can easily see how Job would have assumed that things went well for him because he was obedient to God. I think I had that same kind of assumption. What was lacking was an understanding of the vastness of God’s grace.
Because of His enormous grace, we are sometimes able to be obedient to him for long periods of time. Of course, we don’t even know how often we fail, even when we’re at our best! But at times it can seem like things are going well for us because we are conscientiously following the Lord. The truth is it’s only by His grace that things EVER go well for us!
Likewise, when things don’t go well for us, it doesn’t mean that we are being punished for our sin. Once again, it’s by his grace that God allows us to be tested by suffering and in his gracious and compassionate love, stays with us through it all.
The story of Job ends well in Chapter 42. I encourage you to read it! Job does repent for making God smaller than He is and not understanding His plans. Job understands that he was not being punished but being enlarged to see God as more than He ever imagined. Also he prays for his friends and learns to be more gracious and merciful himself.
Job’s friends are given correction by God and become recipients of God’s grace in part because their friend Job prays for them. They too are being given an opportunity to repent for the way they’ve misjudged God and their friend Job. They responded to God’s correction and His grace covered their sin.
I’d just like to end with a prayer today: “Lord, I pray for all those in pain, in times of intense suffering of any kind. I ask that you will comfort them, that you will bring people around them who are your voices of comfort and strength. I especially pray for the internal voices that accuse and shame them to be silenced, for the voice of the accuser to be silenced also. I pray for the dawning of a new day of understanding Your grace and love, that they will see you with the same eyes Job saw you with. Grant them healing, resolution, peace, and restored joy. In Jesus’ name – Amen.”