Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Be a Miserable Comforter

Part 3 of Why?

Text: Job 2:11-4:8

“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7).

What Should We Do or Say? 

In this world, there is lots of suffering. Every second, one person dies in this world. Job is a book about suffering. When people suffer, they ask two questions: (1) Why has this happened to me?; (2) How do I get through this? If one of your friends was going through a time of suffering, and he or she asked you these two questions, how would you answer?

When our friends suffer, we want to bring them comfort. This is what Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—wanted to do. They “made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (2:11). But Job’s friends didn’t comfort Job. He eventually said to them, “Miserable comforters are you all” (6:2). We don’t want to be miserable comforters like Job’s friends. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people?

Job's Miserable Comforters

Job’s suffering was so great that he wished he had never been born: “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (3:3). Job needed comfort. At first, Job’s friends didn’t say anything: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him” (2:13). But when they finally did speak, what they said didn’t bring comfort to Job.

Eliphaz was the first to counsel Job. He said, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:8). Eliphaz believed that Job was reaping what he had sowed. But Eliphaz was wrong. [1] The book of Job begins by telling us that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). What Eliphaz said is what you hear in a lot of churches: “If you just have enough faith, you’ll prosper!”

Tears and Truth

When Elijah the prophet was depressed, he said to God, “Take away my life” (1 Kings 19:4). How did God respond? Before God spoke to the prophet, he sent the angel of the LORD to cook a meal for Elijah (vv. 5-8). People usually need more than just words. What should we say or do to bring comfort to suffering people? 

To bring comfort, we must provide a mixture of tears and truth. [2]

When Lazarus died, his sisters Mary and Martha needed comfort. Jesus gave them truth: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He also gave them tears: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). [3]

Who That Was Innocent Ever Perished? 

Eliphaz said to Job, “Who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (4:7). Has an innocent person ever perished? Yes, Jesus. “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross, Jesus proved Eliphaz wrong!

When people go through a time of suffering, they need to know that they are loved. The cross proves to us that God loves us.

Show Them You Love Them

But people who suffer also need to know that their friends love them. Usually, when disaster strikes, what the person needs is not a lecture or pat answers. They need a mixture of tears and truth.

Joseph Bayly was a Christian writer who had three children who died at early ages. In his book The View from a Hearse, Bayly wrote this:
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealing, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go way. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go. [4]

[1] Jesus corrected his disciples when they asked about a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3).
[2] This thought (and a few others in this sermon) was borrowed from Tim Keller’s sermon “Miserable Comforters.”
[3] By “tears” I don’t mean that we must always literally cry, but we must show genuine concern for those who are suffering. “Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
[4] Joseph Bayly, The View from a Hearse, 40-41.

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