“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place…. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13, ESV).
The past few weeks have been, it seems, a series of personal tragedies among some of my friends and colleagues. Terminal illness and death of young people runs counter-intuitive to our existence in this world. It’s just not how life is meant to be.
And, in the midst of great tragedy we are left wondering–why did this happen?
Then, we wonder what to say to our friends who are grieving and struggling with overwhelming loss. How can we explain “Why”?
For those who read and study the Bible, the Book of Job in the Old Testament is often the Bible story we fall back on for comfort and understanding in confronting adversity and tragedy. After all, Job’s ten children and who knows how many grandchildren died when a tornado caused the house where they were all eating together to fall in on them.
Besides his children Job lost all of his considerable wealth and his health and then even Job’s wife scorned him in his affliction.
And, all this happened as a result of some seemingly diabolical wager that Satan made with God.
Job had three friends that came to comfort him in his grief and sickness. The greater part of the Book of Job is concentrated on the conversation (or theological debate) that occurs between the grieving Job and his pseudo-sympathetic friends. The words of comfort Job’s friends utter during the exhaustive refrain of this book, however, may be more of a lesson in what NOT to say to your grieving friends.
While Job’s experience is a story that we all can relate to at some level, I honestly find that reading through the book of Job is tedious! Just because we believe the Bible is the Word of God doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of the Bible that are uninteresting to read and difficult to understand.
In the Book of Job the first two chapters and the last five chapters are about what you need to read to get the crux of the story. That’s seven chapters out of forty-two! For most of the thirty-five chapters in the middle Job’s closest friends try to comfort him in his grief by speculating about the theological meaning of Job’s tragic circumstances.
They try to explain “Why” this has happened to Job!
Isn’t that the approach we often use in trying to comfort our grieving friends. We try to explain why this has happened, why God has allowed it to happen. And, then we top it off by quoting Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose!”
Isn’t that sort of like saying: “Get over it. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. This is all part of God’s plans for you and your departed loved one.”
Yet, maybe Job’s friends really care about him and are trying to help him through a difficult situation. Maybe they are well-intentioned friends just like we are, but don’t know what to say to a grief-stricken friend.
Unfortunately, good intentions are no guarantee of good advice! Even when the advice is given by sincere Christians quoting the Bible.
So often our words of comfort are more like theological platitudes. And, even the theology of the platitudes we offer is often defective. Like Job’s friends we speculate that adversity is the result of some bad behavior or lack of faith. Or, we attribute the tragedy to God’s sovereign will and divine purpose.
We try to explain why this bad thing happened when only God knows why!
In this world sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes, the devil is the cause of these bad thing as the Book of Job indicates. But, when bad things happen, it doesn’t mean that God did it in order to somehow shape us into better human beings.
God isn’t building our faith on the basis of inflicting tragedies upon us. My faith can grow from both blessing and adversity.
What the Book of Job teaches us is that we should have faith in spite of tragedy. In other words our confidence should be in trusting the Absolute and Almighty and All-Loving God–who He is and what He is doing in this world–without regard to circumstances.
Your personal tragedy may reveal to you the extent of your faith–whether it be much or it be little. And, that revelation may help your faith to grow.
Sure, Job whined about his adversity. But, that’s okay. That’s the grieving process at work. Our role in helping our grieving friends is to listen and empathize, not advise or theorize.
And, there is a biblical response to dealing with adversity. It’s packed neatly in the middle of the Book of Job.
This powerful declaration by the afflicted Job provides comfort and understanding for both the grieving and those offering comfort to the grieving: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).
After all, isn’t Job’s proclamation the basis of our faith–what we live for in life and what we hope for in death?
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2, ESV)