The following is a portion of a letter that has been written to me by a dear female friend who has walked in Job’s shoes and today is sitting in Job’s seat. She has sorrows. She has tears. She has questions. She has doubts. She has some friends who are encouraging her. She has other friends who, though they may be giving it their best shot, are adding insult to injury. Yes, like Job she hurts, but still she trusts God. She calls out to her Mediator. She looks for her Redeemer. And, like Job, she longs for her chapter 42 experience. There is no doubt about it — one day, maybe even today, God will answer some questions, bring back the lost joy, and make all things new. One day, either in this life or the next, God will restore the years that the locusts have devoured. But until then, my Job-like friend hurts, worships, and waits. I encourage you to read a portion of her thoughts and be blessed from the perspective of a modern suffering saint.
Counsel of God
God holds a heavenly counsel when one of His created beings — Satan — approaches. God throws down the gauntlet and encourages Satan to behold the faithfulness of Job. God is certain of Job’s love; God will instruct Satan, all who are watching, and all who will later read this inspired account.
Counsel of Satan
Notice Satan’s faulty assumption in 1:9. He actually thinks Job only loves God because of the gifts God gives. He thinks Job will “sell out” to spare himself. He will teach God and all watching. Therefore, Satan begs permission to destroy all that is meaningful to Job. (1:6-12) Satan can’t touch God, but he will do all he can to unleash his wrath on God’s man and spoil God’s glory.
It is at this point that wave after wave of adversity comes. Job loses all of his possessions, all of his most meaningful relationships, and even his dignity. To add insult to injury, Satan, in all his fury, strikes Job with unspeakable physical infirmity. All that is left for Job to do is sit in the dirt and ashes.
Even now, God and Job prove Satan wrong. (1:20-21) Job is submissive to God – this is the essence of worship. Quickly, he affirms that his allegiance to God is not founded on God’s blessings to him. God is the bedrock of Job’s soul. God is not something to traded for convenience or comfort. Job’s life is not Job-centric.
Sitting in Silence
It is in this condition that his friends find him (2:13), and it is at this point that they utter the wisest words they possibly could — none at all.
However, this is not the end of the story. Satan compounds Job’s suffering by inspiring the foolish counsel of his well-meaning friends. Satan sees to it that Job is further afflicted by false counsel from religious people.
Counsel of Job’s Wife
It is in 2:9 that Job’s wife utters her poor counsel, “Why don’t you curse God and die.” She is not the only one who utters forth words without knowledge. In this book, there is so much “hot air.”
Counsel of Eliphaz
We notice a primeval “Prosperity Gospel” in 4:8 as Eliphaz announces to Job, “You deserve this; you must have done something wrong! Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people!” Eliphaz reveals a deficient understanding of the fall, the curse, man’s sinful condition, and God’s grace. One has to wonder if Eliphaz’ midnight infernal instigator in 4:12-21 is Satan himself. Eliphaz continues his accusation in Chapter 5, with the result being even more hopelessness and despair for Job. Like the accuser of the brethren, he inserts an occasional grain of truth in a sheaf of lies, adding what credibility he can to his subtly perverted argument. Throughout chapters 6 and 7, Job cries out for mercy from the depths of his being. Surely death would be better than suffering the loss of all things augmented by the cruelty of his friends! Job is made worse from the influence of false teaching.
Counsel of Bildad
Bildad jumps into the conversation in Chapter 8, exercising his “judgment” in things he really knows nothing about. He presents his formula for success, and it is the “Prosperity Gospel Part Two.” Like Eliphaz, Bildad denies that bad things happen to those who are truly good. He too suggests Job is suffering because he has forsaken God. If Job will repent, all will be made right. This pushes Job to the brink of insanity.
Counsel of Zophar
Sadly, all of Job’s friends blame Job for his calamities by accusing him of sins he hasn’t committed. In chapter 11, Zophar plays the role of a mocker. He deserves Job’s sarcasm. He too is of no help, and all of this harms Job terribly. They are adding insult to injury. They are being used by the devil. They are adding fuel to Satan’s fire, and it hurts horribly. As a consequence, Job finds himself continually asking God, “What have I done wrong to deserve this?” [Clearly, Job’s sins are not the cause of his calamity, and when God later arrives on the scene and speaks, he ignores this question all-together.]
Worship of Job
We are privileged to know the end of Job’s story, and because we know the sweet conclusion, this may cause us to be a bit callous regarding Job’s woeful experiences. Keep this in mind: for all Job knows, he will go to the grave in this horrific condition. To him, his suffering is interminable. To him, life is not worth living. To him, there is no hope of anything getting better. And yet, despite all this, still he strives to worship his God.
What amazes me most is Job’s presence of mind in the throes of deep tribulation, and his ability to worship in spite of his circumstances and his lack of understanding of them. Without the advantage of having God’s written Word, Job maintained an eternal outlook. In the end, Job is persevering. In the end, Job has been preserved. When all is said and done, despite the ups and downs, despite the faithfulness and faithlessness, Job is still worshiping God.
Job’s wife is wrong.
Job’s friends are wrong.
Job’s devil is wrong.
God and Job — they are right.
Counsel to Suffering Friends
Friend, if you are one suffering or grieving, at your lowest-ever point, dealing with unimaginable and unexpected losses and betrayal, it helps –even a little bit– to know you’re not alone. There may not be a logical explanation for your calamity. You may not be dealing with the consequences of sin on your part, but God is belittling the devil, glorifying himself, building his kingdom, and improving his people by means of your calamity, and one day you will rejoice. I can’t tell you how long your suffering or grief will last. Your recovery may take much longer than you think it should. Allow yourself the time you need, and set boundaries for what you can and can’t handle. And pray for grace to worship well. How you respond to suffering is a strong indicator of what you think about God and the hope of His salvation. Again, pray for grace to worship well. This is a prayer God loves to answer. He will allow you the grace needed to steward well the time of your bereavement. On the more practical side, acknowledge that God created you as a multi-dimensional person with physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional needs, and seek ways to gain health in all these areas in your life. Eat nutritiously. Exercise your body. You may need more rest than normal. Seek counseling. Allow yourself to grieve so healing can take place. Allow yourself constructive distraction or amusement. Be pro-active in learning and growing. But above all, saturate yourself with truth so you can combat the faulty, toxic ideology that will seemingly spring from nowhere and everywhere. Regularly place yourself under the teaching of God’s Word, and associate with people who speak truth. Surround yourself with healthy, positive, Gospel-centric people, and contact them often.
Counsel to Friends of Sufferers
If you are a person who has not experienced the gut-wrenching, soul-rending, mind-numbing tribulation such as Job and other believers, please know that those you seek to help may need your presence more than your words. People may not remember what you do or say, but they will always remember how you make them feel.
Like Job’s friends, you do not know the beginning of the story, the reason for the story, or the end of the story. Therefore, you need not have all the answers; this is because you do not have all the answers.
The suffering person in your circle just needs you to be compassionate — not condescending, but compassionate. Give the griever space when they want it, and an open invitation for when they need company. Realize that the sufferer may look okay on the outside, but feels as if he or she is dying on the inside. It’s important not to take the opportunity to try to “cheer them up.” You may not realize this, but this only trivializes their pain. Remind them frequently of your prayers and thoughts on their behalf. Message them regularly even if they don’t respond. They may not have the strength to. Expect them to meet very few of your needs during this season. Acknowledge and legitimize their suffering, because no one can measure someone else’s pain. Be considerate by refraining from telling your own sad story (unless they ask), or comparing their grief to someone else’s (even Job’s!). Don’t presume to know what they’re going through, because, chances are, you don’t. Just be there, and be genuine.
Please know that despite your intentions, you can be the Christian counselor and friend who adds fuel to Satan’s fire. You do not want this, so be very guarded about the friendly counsel you give.
For great teaching on navigating suffering from a gospel-centric perspective, I can recommend a New Testament parallel from Peter in this link:
A Word to the Wonderful Counselor
Thank you, God, for giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of a man who knew you, who didn’t even have your written Word, yet withstood Satan’s malicious attacks at great personal cost. Thank you for this narrative that assures us that all things truly are common to man, but you are the Sovereign One over all things pertaining to man. Thank you that suffering and grief are but for a season, that you make all things new in your time, and that you give beauty for ashes and the oil of gladness for mourning. Thank you that we have a great High Priest that is touched by the feeling of our infirmities, who intercedes for us, and for the Holy Spirit who prays for us when there are no words. Thank you that we are declared blameless and upright because of Jesus Christ, and that when we are faithless, you remain faithful. Thank you for preserving us to the end; we will persevere! Amen.