Summary: What to do and what not to do when comforting the wounded

Last week we had our 22nd Church Anniversary celebration, and celebrations are an important part of life. But celebrations rarely make up the majority of our lives. Most of our lives are made of up work, sprinkled with some successes and some defeats. The goal is to focus on the destination and not the defeats.

This morning, we return to our study in the book of Job. From this book, I hope we can learn to grow in our faith, maturity, skills and stamina to deal with the successes and defeats in life.

The large part of Job’s life was a success story. He was a man of character, and his character paid off. God blessed him with children and wealth. And Job was not prideful, but he revered God and shunned evil.

If you’re experiencing success currently, you will do well to revere God and to shun evil. Many people do not know how to handle success, and their success does not last. Why do successful people end up ruining their lives with drug, adultery and other destructive behaviors? Because pride often follows success.

The Apostle Paul instructs us from 1 Corinthians 10:12, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" And Proverbs 16:18 tells us, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." In other words, if you want to maintain success as long as possible, live in humility and wisdom by revering God and shunning evil.

If you are experiencing defeat currently, you will be encouraged by Job’s perseverance of integrity in the midst of great loss and suffering. At this point of our study, Job is no longer the blessed, poised and wealthy man. He has lost all his children, wealth and health. His wife is waiting for him to die. And although his friends came to comfort Job, they became speechless at the sight of Job’s devastation.

In our last study, Job finally breaks the silence and begins to vent. He spews out self-pity and helplessness, wishing he were dead. The loss and the pain are only matched by the humiliation of going from being known as "the greatest man among all the people of the East" to being unrecognizable by his friends.

Many times, we come across acquaintances and friends who are hurting and humiliated, but we don’t know how to help. Someone loses a loved one, and her joyful disposition has turned into depression. Another had investments at $200 per share that has dropped to $2 per share, and he doesn’t know if he has enough to retire on anymore.

Who will bring comfort to them? Who will comfort those whose pride is wounded, those who are lonely, those who have lost loved ones or those who are facing defeat in their marriage, their work or their personal lives? Christians ought to be people who bring comfort to others. After all, we’ve received great comfort from God.

We continue with chapters 4 and 5, when one of Job’s friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, responds to Job’s venting. Let me read the two chapters for us.

Twelve years ago, I read a book titled, "You and Your Network" by Fred Smith, and there I learned to secure mentors for different areas of my life. My first mentor was a pastor, who welcomed me into his life 24 hours a day. I remember him saying, "Dana, you will learn a great deal from me. Sometimes you will learn what to do, and other times you will learn what not to do. Even my mistakes are lessons for you to take home."

This morning, Eliphaz makes four mistakes in his response to Job. In Job 2:11 we read, "When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon [Job], they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him."

Eliphaz’s original goal was to comfort Job, but his words in chapters 4 and 5 betray his intention. Even so, Eliphaz’s mistakes are lessons we can take home. Let’s look together at how to provide true first aid to the wounded by avoiding Eliphaz’ mistakes.

First, we need to bring comfort and not condemnation. Job 4:1-6

To comfort is to strengthen and to build up. To condemn is to criticize, to judge and to tear down.

Eliphaz begins by telling Job to take his own medicine. After all, Job had instructed many with his wisdom and godliness. Could Job not find help for his situation from his own instruction and relationship with God?

Let me tell you, reading Eliphaz’s words make me want to stay in my seat and keep my mouth shut. As a Bible teacher, I teach what the Bible says are answers to life’s problems. But having the answers is not the same as living the answers.

When we experience loss, defeat or illness, we may be too weak to do what we know to do or to even think clearly. During those times, I need to be careful not to add condemnation on top of your suffering. And you need to be careful not to add condemnation on top of my suffering.

Galatians 6:1 reminds us, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted."

I believe Eliphaz was tempted to stop Job’s complaining or to raise himself up by proving that Job was more talk than substance. When we comfort others who are at bottom morally, spiritually, emotionally, financially, relationally or physically, we need to be careful we are not tempted by pride in our own situation.

None of us are free from mistakes or wrongdoing in our lives. The only person who is perfect and has every right to condemn us for our wrongdoing and foolishness is God, but does God condemn us?

John 3:16-17 tells us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

The Bible tells us that our sins have separated us from God. And although we are responsible, we are unable to correct the problem. In our moment of defeat and separation from God, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, not to condemn us but to restore us. When we come across someone who is hurting and defeated, we need to be a source of comfort rather than a source of condemnation.

Eliphaz condemned Job for not living what he preached, but the lesson we take home is to comfort the wounded.

Second, we need to keep personal experiences private. Job 4:12-21

Eliphaz decided to share from his personal observations, one from the physical world and one from the spiritual world. From the physical world, he shares the law of cause and effect: What you sow, you reap. From the spiritual world, he shares a recent dream that he thinks will offer insight into Job’s situation. In that dream, a voice asked the questions, "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?"

Eliphaz uses his experiences to make the point that Job might be getting what he deserves. After all, we reap what we sow. And since God is righteous and pure, and mankind, including Job, is not righteous and not pure, God is only giving Job what he deserves.

But we know Eliphaz is wrong; Job’s devastation is not a result of his sins. We have the advantage of reading Job, chapters 1 and 2, where Satan asserts that people worship God only because of what they receive from God. So Job became the subject of a test to prove that God is worthy of worship, even when Satan removes God’s blessings from Job’s life.

We need to be very careful not to make ourselves God’s mouthpiece to other people. God is very capable of telling me directly. And God is very capable of telling you directly, especially if you are a Christian and have the Spirit of God in you.

Eliphaz misapplied his personal experience into Job’s situation, but the lesson we take home is to keep our personal experiences private.

Third, we need to carry the grieving to God. Job 5:1-16

Eliphaz here is commenting on the fact that Job has not made his appeal to God. Job felt so powerless, his faith so shaken and his confidence so shattered that making his appeal to God didn’t even cross his mind.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit cancer patients and terminally ill patients in the hospital, and their faith, once strong and vibrant, became weak and limp. They and their family members couldn’t pray, so I prayed for them. Telling a deeply hurting or ill person to appeal to God is like telling a drowning man to swim. He would if he could.

Matthew 9:2 records the following: "Some men brought to Jesus a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ’Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’" Jesus healed the paralytic because he saw the faith of the friends, not the faith of the paralytic.

Eliphaz told Job to go to God, but the lesson we take home is to personally carry the grieving to God.

Fourth, we need to contain platitudes from presumption. Job 5:17-27

Platitudes are clichés. Presumption is what we assume will happen.

Eliphaz began with condemnation; he continued by misapplying his own experience to Job, and he then told Job to go and appeal to God. Eliphaz now assured Job that God will intervene, and that Job will get better.

Eliphaz uses clichés we’ve all heard of, "God is using the suffering to make you a better person." This may be true or not, depending on whether the person draws closer to God or walks away from God in response to the suffering. Or, "God will fix your problem if you have more faith." This may be true or not. In Job’s situation, God didn’t fix Job’s situation because Job had great faith to endure.

God can and does heal and restore. In the case of Job, God did heal Job’s illness and restore his wealth. We read this in Job, chapter 42. But God was not obligated to heal or restore to Job his losses.

God doesn’t always heal or make things better. But some religious books will tell you God always heals. You see, only books with happy endings sell in our society. So when the patient dies or the trouble goes from bad to worse, people involved become angry at God or lose faith in God. And all this occurs because we are repeatedly told the presumptuous platitudes that God will fix everything.

Instead of putting words in God’s mouth, we need to have the courage to face the unknown outcome along with the person who is suffering and hurting. We need to keep in check our tendency to use platitudes. Platitudes may make us feel better as we walk away from the hospital or the home of the ill and the depressed, but platitudes can also be false and eventually hurtful to other’s faith.

We read in Job 42:7, "[The Lord] said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right...." Eliphaz gave Job platitudes, but the lesson we take home is to contain our platitudes that come from presumptions.

Someone tells about a little girl whose best friend died in a car accident. She went over to visit the deceased friend’s parents a week later. When she got home from the visit, her Dad asked, "Why did you go over so soon after Shirley’s death?"

"To comfort Shirley’s mother," said the child.

"What could you do to comfort her?" asked her Dad.

The little girl replied, "I climbed into her lap, and I cried with her."

Hebrews 2:14-15 explains how Jesus, the Son of God, came to comfort hopeless and fearful humanity: "Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy [Satan] who holds the power of death ... and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

God did not condemn; He truly identified with us; He did not just tell us what we needed to do, and He kept His promise to deliver us. We see in Jesus Christ the God Who climbed into human skin and cried with us. Then He died on the cross to pay for our sins and was raised from the dead, so that when we die, as we certainly will, we would have no fear of staying that way.