It Could Be Worse? — Textual Tuesday

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Two of Job’s friends have attempted to correct Job so far. Eliphaz and Bildad has attempted to show Job that he is obviously not innocent of sin and this is the cause of his suffering. However, the first two chapters of Job told us plainly and clearly by God and the narrator that this is not the cause. Job is blameless, upright, fears God, and turns from evil. With Job still maintaining his integrity and blamelessness, we will consider how Job’s third friend, Zophar, will try to “comfort” Job.

Zophar begins by telling Job that he is a windbag, just like Bildad said (11:2-3). Your words have no substance. You talk a lot but say nothing. Further, Job’s position concerning his innocence is ludicrous (11:4) and Zophar wishes that God would put Job in his place (11:5-6). He says that Job’s suffering is the evidence that he is not innocent. Consider that Zophar does not know of any sins. But listen to the cutting words at the end of verse 6:

“Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” (Job 11:6)

Zophar says that God has forgotten some of your sins and you are actually get less than you deserve. What cruel and crushing words! Zophar tells Job that life should be worse. We noted in the last article that our God is not karma and does not run the world in this way. Job is righteous. He is not guilty and is not being punished for sins. Job is not getting anything he “deserves.” We have previously observed that we cannot look at our life outcome and think that because bad things are happening that we have done something wrong or because good things are happening that we have done something right. But we can be tempted to think this about others. We can think that someone is finally getting what they deserve. We fail to have compassion for other’s suffering. Rather, we take pleasure in seeing others hurt. It speaks to a darkness of our hearts that we would take joy in the suffering of others. Envy and jealousy can be underneath why we like to see others fall.

Sometimes we can give this terrible comfort to others: “Well, it could be worse.” You have suffered much but it could be worse. Telling another person that life could be worse is of no comfort or value at all. How does telling another person that your life could be an even greater disaster comfort to the suffering person? Of course life could be worse! But how does that help me with my pain and suffering today? Helping people through suffering is not done by telling people that their lives could be worse. We are all aware that life could be worse. But we are in pain now. Zophar is telling Job that God has been compassionate toward Job because it would be so much worse if God punished him for all his sins. God could make your life even worse.

We sometimes go further than Zophar. We will try to show someone that life could be worse by telling that person how much worse our own lives are! “If you think that is bad, let me tell you what happened to me!” Suffering is not a competition. Why do we feel so compelled to have to “one-up” each other regarding our difficulties? We need to cry and mourn with those who are crying and mourning. When we are given the opportunities to help those who are suffering, first consider what you would want to hear before speaking, rather than telling the person something that can only increase their pain.

Brent Kercheville