This morning, we will look at the book of Job, chapter 2. Job, as we saw several weeks ago, is an epic poem. An epic poem is a heroic story recorded in poetry form
Although the book of Job deals with the problem of suffering, we will not find easy answers to the problem of suffering. Nevertheless, we will find lessons in encouragement, examples that inspire faith and correction to false assumptions.
Job chapter two is a continuation of the prologue, which gives us the setting and introduces Job’s friends for the dialogue between Job and his friends and eventually between Job and God.
This morning, I want to highlight three observations from chapter two and then identify four characteristics of comforters displayed by Job’s friends. These are not the only characteristics, but they are significant characteristics of good comforters.
The word comfort comes from two Latin words, "com" and "fortis" to mean "strengthen by being with." To comfort someone is not only to help him or her feel better but also to help him or her become stronger, in order to handle the hardships of life. We all need comforters, because we all face disappointment, loss, hardship and suffering in life. Yet few of us know how to comfort others effectively.
Before we look at the characteristics of comforters, let me highlight the three observations from Job chapter 2.
First, we observe that faithfulness requires more faithfulness. Verses 1-3
If you remember, Job proved his faithfulness at the end of chapter 1 by praising God even after losing his livestock, properties and children. You would think that such faithfulness, or ongoing trust in God, would be rewarded with wealth, health or spiritual intimacy with God. Instead, we read that God permits Satan to test Job again.
Rosa, Amy, Kathy and my wife helped at the Vacation Bible School this week. My daughter for the first time attended school. The first day, she was thrilled to go. She only whined a little when she saw my car drive off. The second day, she cried much more when she saw Mommy walking by with other kids.
On the third day, she was reluctant to go to school. So I asked her why. She answered, "I already went to school." She didn’t know that faithfulness requires more faithfulness.
Our parents, because of our faithfulness in middle school, required us to go to high school. And because we were faithful in our study in high school, our parents required us to go to college.
If we dropped out of middle school, we wouldn’t need to be faithful anymore. Faithfulness requires more faithfulness. The alternative would be unfaithfulness or dropping out.
You thought that by faithfully forgiving your husband five times for the same offense, that God would change him. What you didn’t know was that faithfulness requires more faithfulness.
You thought that by faithfully serving the church for 20 years, God would let you rest after retirement. What you didn’t know was that faithfulness requires more faithfulness. The alternative would be unfaithfulness or dropping out.
Second, we observe that Satan respects God’s boundary. Verses 4-7
We may not be thrilled about where God draws His boundary for Satan, but we can be confident that Satan cannot do anything to us unless God permits for His purpose. This means if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ and belong to God, you don’t have to be afraid of Satan or evil spirits.
John wrote to Christians in 1John 4:4, "... the one who is in you [God’s Spirit] is greater than the one who is in the world [Satan or evil spirits]."
Before I sat down on Friday night to work on this point, I checked my email and received the following forwarded by Rosa from another of our missionary in Japan, Katie Cole. Katie wrote, "I called the Kuratas at 7:10 this morning and Grandma told me that there has been no word from Mr. Kurata yet. [Mr. Kurata has been missing.]
Katie continued, "Thought I should tell you that last night when I was sending out our prayer request I felt very much that Satan didn’t want you all to be praying. First I had a problem with my computer switching into Japanese and not switching back to English. Usually it is a simple push of a button. I had to close AOL and start over. Then when I was ready to send the message, it wouldn’t go. So I closed the program again and started over again. This time the message started to go out but got stopped part way through. My computer said it hadn’t gone out yet. So I prayed over my computer and pleaded with God to get this prayer message out. I said, ’Lord, you are greater than my computer and can get this message out even if my computer can’t do it.’ So I tried to send it one more time and again it was stopped half way through. I went to bed discouraged, but knowing that God could call people to pray in His own way."
"This morning I checked my "Mail Waiting to Be Sent" file and there was my message, still sitting there. But, when I called in mail there were several replies from you and assurances of prayer for the Kurata family!" God is at work...."
Some of you maybe discouraged by your work, your family or your illness. Some of that is just a part of living in an imperfect world. But if Satan has anything to do with your loss or suffering, you can be sure that Satan must respect God’s boundary.
Third, we observe that human pity without regard for God results in foolishness. Verses 8-10
There are at least two theories for why Job’s wife told Job to curse God and die. The first theory is that Job had a large life insurance policy. The second theory is that Satan used Job’s wife to tempt Job to be unfaithful to God.
I have a third theory. I believe Job’s wife really loved Job, and she had pity on Job. He lost all he owned, even his children. Now his health was declining, and he was miserable. Job’s wife didn’t want to see him suffer any longer. She had pity on Job, but she was not at all concerned about what God was doing. Job recognized this as foolishness.
We live in a society that responds to human pity without regard for God. For instance, God forbids divorce, except in cases of marital unfaithfulness. But some will say, "How could anyone be so cruel as to keep two unhappy people together?" Or, "How can anyone be so cruel as to put the children through such an unhappy family system?" And so, human pity without regard for God results in divorce, which is foolishness.
A recent study by the University of Chicago showed couples who stay in an unhappy marriage and endure it are more likely to be happy 5 years later than those who decide to divorce. The study noted that even if no work is done on the marriage, ongoing problems were often viewed in new perspective over time. And when both spouse worked on the marriage, many problems were solved and communication improved. Finally, if only one spouse worked on the marriage, there was improved happiness in the one spouse despite a mediocre marriage.
We need to be careful that we are not reacting to human pity without regard for God and His instructions. We see this in many cases of doctor-assisted suicides and in many abortions. When we face trouble, even life-threatening trouble, we must never disregard God and respond to human pity alone. Such a reaction results in foolishness.
With the remaining time, let’s look at the last 3 verses in chapter 2 to identify four characteristics of comforters. If we learn to become a comforter, we will not lack friends.
The first characteristic of comforters is that they contact the person with the goal to comfort. We see this in verse 11.
Job’s friends heard the news and set out to comfort Job. This sounds simple and logical, but there are many obstacles and excuses that keep people from making contact to comfort the hurting and the grieving.
Sometimes we are so close to the one who is suffering that we grieve also. And we don’t believe we have enough emotional energy left to bring comfort. So we don’t make contact to comfort.
Other times we don’t make contact to comfort because we don’t know how. We are concern we’ll say the wrong things or do the wrongs things and make matters worse.
The Spirit of God is called the Comforter. He comes alongside to encourage. If you are a Christian, you have the Spirit of God in you. No matter what your obstacle or excuse, you are able to comfort others with the Spirit of God in you. We can contact in person, by phone or with a personal note in a sympathy card. The first characteristic of comforters is to contact the person with the goal to comfort.
The second characteristic of comforters is that they allow the person suffering to be unrecognizable. We see this in verse 12a.
The friends could hardly recognize Job. Job’s appearance was changed by his illness. Job’s posture was changed by his great grief and misery. Job’s friends didn’t recognize him.
I remember visiting a friend in the hospital. He was suffering from prostate cancer, and his disposition was unrecognizable. His strong faith in God melted into a numbed state. He was not the same person I new before the prostate cancer.
As a comforter, we need to allow the person who is suffering to be different from himself or herself before he or she was suffering. When people experience loss of health, loss of a loved one or even loss of possessions, they feel they are less than themselves.
We need to allow them to cry, to cuss, to breakdown and to be unspiritual. Nothing you say can shock me. When you are hurt, suffering or grieving, you have my permission to be unrecognizable.
This doesn’t mean we do not help them regain some normalcy in their hygiene or health. This means we accept them and not judge their unexpected response to suffering. The second characteristic of comforters is to allow the person to be unrecognizable.
The third characteristic of comforters is that they empathize with compassion. We see this in verse 12b.
Job’s friends identified with his pain. Their culture expressed great grief by tearing their robes and sprinkling dust on their heads.
I remember my first visitation as a new minister almost seven years ago. The patient, a college student, broke her leg. She was an excellent tennis player, but this accident would leave her unable to play tennis or be actively involved in any sports activity for over a year.
I still cringe when I think about what I did at the visit to the hospital. When I arrived, her parents, sister, brother-in-law and her boyfriend were all present. They were all having a good time joking around and even making fun of her. As a young minister, I wanted to fit in, so I added my sarcastic remarks.
It was too late when I noticed she wasn’t laughing. For the next year, I worked very hard, unsuccessfully, to earn her trust. I vowed that if I could choose to be caring or clever, I would choose to be caring. I don’t always succeed, but I realize the need to be compassionate.
A person in pain may not show the pain or grief. At hospitals or funerals, even if the family members are not sad or grieving, you need to empathize with compassion. If we are to be comforters, we must err on the side of compassion rather than cleverness. The third characteristic of comforters is to empathize with compassion.
The fourth characteristic of comforters is that they choose closeness over clichés. We see this in verse 13.
Job’s friends sat silently with Job for seven days. When words are not sufficient, then words should not be used. In many cases, talking can be bothersome to those who are grieving. These friends were comforters until they started talking, as we will see in later chapters.
When people don’t know what to say, clichés usually come out. Some of the common clichés include, "Time heals all wound." Or, "Your loved one is happier in Heaven." Or, "Look at all that you have left." While these may be true, they are rarely comforting.
If you feel the need to say something, especially if you are making contact on the phone, say things that validate their feelings. Say, "It’s natural to be confused at this time." Or, "It’s okay to cry." Or, "This must hurt a lot."
In June Cerza Kolf’s book, How Can I Help?, she notes that grieving people will not remember words spoken, but they will remember who stayed near them in the early days of grieving. The fourth characteristic of comforters is to stay close and leave out the clichés.
Kahlil Gibran remarked, "We can forget those with whom we have laughed, but we can never forget those with whom we have cried." If we effectively comfort those who are hurting in life, we will be unforgettable in their minds. Furthermore, if we effectively comfort those who are hurting in life, we will be unforgettable in God’s mind.
Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-40:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
"Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"
[He replied], `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’"
In other words, when we comfort the hurting, we are given credit for comforting God.