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What Not To Say To Sufferers

This past Sunday at Sovereign Grace Church we continued our series in Job, Walking With God When Life Goes Sideways by looking at Job 4:1–5:7So what can we learn from Job’s friends? Many things actually. It might surprise you how much we can learn. There is a reason we get to overhear these guys pontificate for so many chapters in Scripture. From these guys we learn what not to say to a Christian who is suffering. Yep, Job accurately describes his orthodox friends as “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2). Derek Kidner helpfully explains what was wrong with these guys who had come to “show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11):

“The basic error of Job’s friends is that they overestimate their grasp of truth, misapply the truth they know, and close their minds to any facts that contradict what they assume.”

There you have it. Overestimate their grasp of truth and misapply the truth they know. Hmmm. I’ve done that.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are certain that the cause of Job’s suffering must be Job’s sin. Just has to be. It’s obvious to them. But they are wrong. They are clueless as to the heavenly conversation where God says of Job that he is “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). Job’s suffering isn’t because of his sin. Job is suffering because he was godly. He isn’t suffering because he lacked faith. He is suffering because of his faith. His suffering isn’t punitive and it isn’t the discipline of God in order to refine him, though he will certainly grow in his knowledge of God through suffering. No, Job suffers in order to refute the taunt and accusation of the devil that he is serving God only because of the prosperity graciously provided by God. Satan said Job’s faith was fake and wanted to prove Job was a fraud. Satan says that Job didn’t love God because God is worthy; that he was only using God to serve himself. 

God knew otherwise and gave Satan permission to afflict Job, confident His grace in Job’s heart and life would sustain Job and reveal a man who did love God and learned to love God for God himself alone and not simply the earthly benefits he provides. Job’s friends didn’t know anything about this heavenly interchange. Job’s friends overestimate their grasp of truth. They don’t perceive the secret purpose of heaven. And they don’t have a category for innocent suffering, so they misapply the truth they knew. “So the comforters make a big mistake,” writes Christopher Ash.

“Job does not need to repent for any sin that has led to his suffering. He is not being punished for sin. To say that he is adds a cruel burden to his grief.”

A cruel burden indeed. These guys misrepresent God and have misjudged Job. They are miserable failures in the moment when they could have communicated immeasurable comfort.

Job’s friends form a sobering, cautionary tale for us. We best study them carefully so we don’t make a similar “big mistake” when we are attempting to care for those who are suffering. We must not add a cruel burden to their grief when what they need is compassion and hope. Job’s friends overestimate their grasp of truth and misapply this truth to Job. Their wisdom is Proverbial. They are working strictly from the biblical categories of sowing and reaping. Their knowledge is true, but limited. It doesn’t apply to Job and his suffering. And that is why we must not only study Proverbs but the book of Job in order to understand the wisdom of God. And we must give careful attention to Job’s friends. If we don’t we can bear a striking resemblance to these guys and you don’t want to be like these guys.