Every once in a while I get the opportunity to write for my church. This is one of those times. Below is a preview of a devotional on empathy, grief, and what Job’s wife and friends taught us (and not to!) do when one of our loved ones is suffering. Or, you can link to the full post here. I hope this is practical, encouraging, and helpful!
The life of Job is such an interesting deep dive into the mind and emotion of a person who encounters great suffering. He is, quite literally, the comforting BIblical figure for so many who find themselves in season after season of loss, trying to make sense of themselves and God in the midst of it.
And, while Job himself is an important character to study, I have often found myself particularly interested in a few of the folks around him, namely, his wife and three buddies. They are an intriguing study in how people respond when others are suffering and a great read on what to do (and not do!) when you are trying to help.
Just in case you are unfamiliar with the story, Job’s life starts out pretty fantastic. He has a large family, lots of land, livestock, etc. He is living “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1) for the Lord when Satan does a flyby. Satan suggests that the only reason Job is faithful is because God has not allowed any hardship in his life. At this, God allows Satan an opportunity to access Job’s life, wreaking destruction, havoc, and death in almost every way imaginable. By the end of chapter 1 (of 42 chapters!) Job has lost all his livestock and his ten children. This is how the chapter ends: “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:20-22, NIV
Gracious! I cannot imagine that kind of loss, particularly all at once. The pain would be unbelievable, and the crisis of self, faith, and God is just as overwhelming. Certainly, it couldn’t get worse, but it does.
As we enter chapter 2, God allows Satan access not only to the things and people around Job, but to Job himself. He is afflicted with painful sores over his entire body, apparently pushing his wife to the limit of what she could stand. In her pain, she offers this, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” Job 2:9-10, NIV
At this point, Job has lost his livelihood, his children, and his wife has turned on him and the Lord. But, here come his buddies, comforting Job and giving us a great example of how to be with someone who is suffering.
“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” Job 2:11-13, NIV
These guys got it (at first). They did exactly what we need to do with suffering people sometimes. We need to just be there. Close our mouths. Pray. Weep for them. Gather with other friends and sit in solidarity just to say, “You’re not alone.” If only they could have remained that way…