Miserable Comforters — Textual Tuesday

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Then Job answered: I have heard many things like these. You are all miserable comforters. Is there no end to your empty words? What provokes you that you continue testifying? If you were in my place I could also talk like you. I could string words together against you and shake my head at you. Instead, I would encourage you with my mouth, and the consolation from my lips would bring relief. (Job 16:1–5 CSB)

This is one of the great responses Job has to his three friends. They have brought him no help and no comfort. Rather, these three friends have accused Job of sins he did not commit and have described God in ways that are inaccurate. It is important for us to consider how to avoid the mistakes these men make in offering comfort.

First, shallow affirmations of hope are not helpful (17:12). How often people attempt to be helpful with so many cliches and empty words! Friends, those in deep pain do not need our answers but our love and compassion. There are not answers, so do not try to give answers. Just be compassionate. Be a comforter. Saying empty words like “Things will get better” or “There is gold at the end of the rainbow” or “Turn lemons into lemonade” or some other kind of weak advice or comfort is not helpful and not true. I hope that we would learn something very valuable that our goal as comforters is not to provide answers. God is too complex for us to give answers for why things happen the way that they do. Further, we do not have the wisdom to know why things are happening as they are. We just need to quietly sit and absorb what is happening.

Second, we must shorten our words. Less words are more valuable. The more the three friends speak, the more harm they did. We do not need to say something. Some of the most valuable comforts are tearful hugs and quiet companionship and compassion.

Third, we must season our words. The command that we read in Ephesians is just as important, if not more so, during suffering. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) Our words need to build up the person, be words that fit the occasion, and words that give grace. We have not seen these qualities in the words of the these three friends. When we speak, consider our words. What can we say to help? Are our words fitting the occasion? Are our words giving grace?

Finally, we must consider our words. Am I applying the scriptures properly? It is easy to misuse the scriptures during times of suffering. We can take godly principles and use them in false applications. Job’s three friends repeatedly use the scriptures in advising Job. But at the end of the book God declares that the friends did not speak right about God (42:7). It is possible to misuse the scriptures when we apply them to those who are suffering. We must think carefully if our help is really scriptural and accurate to the ways of God.

Paul proclaimed that God comforts us in our afflictions so that we can comfort those who are in any affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4). Let us not be miserable comforters but actual comfort those in any affliction.

Brent Kercheville