Suffering’s Cushion

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2012), January 23

UnknownYou’ve been around people whose very presence reek of positional and religious snobbery. Me too. Sometimes I’ve been that person—the one who assumes that others’ particular sufferings are the result of some deficiency on their part. The statements I make and the questions I ask further their misery; they remove a needed cushion from the sufferer.

Sadly, Job’s friends’ “consolation of condemnation” forces Job to defend himself, “I have heard many such things; miserable; miserable comforters are you all! Shall words of wind have an end?Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if your should were in my soul’s place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief” (Job 16:2-5).

Eliphaz and his three friends demonstrate that people who’ve not suffered struggle to enter into the suffering of others; they often end up condemning those who suffer rather than consoling them and providing a comforting cushion for them in their suffering.

Paul draws a parallel between suffering and the ministry of consolation, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Believers who’ve suffered often develop ministries to those who suffer similarly. Think of Joni Eareckson-Tada’s vast ministry to those with handicaps and the various ministries begun by former drug addicts to drug addicts, etc. They know what others of similar circumstances experience, and they enter into their sufferings.

Several truths emerge from Job’s interaction with his friends:

  • The empathy of a friend, in word and action, ministers more effectively than a religious discussion on suffering; empathy provides a comforting cushion for the sufferer.
  • It’s okay to rebuke and dismiss the unsympathetic and harsh condemnation of others.
  • Identification with, acts of service, and kindness bring greater consolation than words spoken. They provide the sufferer with a cushion that softens their pain.
  • Those who’ve suffered either become bitter toward others and God, or they become softer, kinder people who enter into the sufferings of others.

A long-lasting migraine would have done Eliphaz and his friends a world of good. Perhaps taught them a thing or two about being a headache to their friend Job.

Questions from today’s reading (Job 15:1-18:21): 

What does Eliphaz say about Job that turns his conversation into an attack on Job’s character? (Job 15)

How does Job respond to Eliphaz’s vicious verbal attack? (Job 16)

How has Job’s prolonged suffering affected his friendships?