Written By Chong Shou En, Singapore
Confidante. A shoulder to cry on. Bosom buddy. We’ve all needed these people, and played these roles too at different times in our lives.
It isn’t a role to be taken lightly, however. When people are at their most vulnerable, that’s often when whatever we say or do can have the biggest impact. Well-intentioned but incorrect or insensitive words and actions can damage, put off, or discourage the very friends turning to us for comfort and support.
Have you ever come across the phrase “Job’s comforter”? According to Google, it means someone who “aggravates distress under the guise of giving comfort.” If you’re familiar with the Bible story of Job, you can probably guess that this phrase is in reference to Job’s three friends who, instead of providing Job the support and comfort he needed through the suffering he was facing, gave him much grief by accusing and criticizing him.
Yet, there is much we can learn from the account of Job when it comes to journeying with friends through their difficult times.
1. Reach out
Job was a righteous and blameless man, blessed by God with a large family and great wealth. One day, God allowed Satan to strike Job in order to see how he would react. In a short period, Job lost all his children and possessions, and was afflicted with sickness to boot. Then, three of Job’s friends came to visit him.
“When Job’s three friends. . . heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). These friends even tore their clothes as an expression of grief and spent seven days in silent vigil with Job (Job 2:12-13).
This level of sincerity and sensitivity is admirable, and certainly something we can learn from. We too should be brave and bold to take the first step to approach friends in need and accompany them.
2. Don’t judge
Though Job’s friends got off to a good start, they came to be known as terrible friends.
Though they did a good job keeping quiet the first seven days, the problem started when they opened their mouths. Instead of comforting and encouraging Job, these friends judged him.
And boy did they judge him hard. These three friends took it upon themselves to tell Job how he had sinned and deserved all this suffering that he brought upon himself, even though the Bible said he was “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1).
These friends called him presumptuous, wicked, and lacking fear of God. They even suggested that Job enjoyed his wrongdoing (Job 20:12), and that his sons deserved the calamity that struck them down (Job 18:19). It was definitely not what Job needed to hear at the moment.
I once shared certain painful experiences with a friend, hoping to explain some changes in my personality he had found unsettling. I was truly hurt when my friend responded by criticizing me for what I had just told him. Though there was some truth in my friend’s criticisms, for which I apologized, this experience ultimately pushed us apart and made me see him in a different light.
We must be careful not to judge each other and draw our own conclusions about why another is suffering.
3. Keep silent and listen
Elihu, the fourth friend, stayed quiet for most of the book while the other three bickered, only speaking up when the others had finished laying out their views.
Like Elihu, we shouldn’t be quick to offer the first reply that comes to mind, because, as we’ve seen, that is probably not what is needed.
My army friend recently told me about how he and his girlfriend often quarrelled, because whenever he confided to her about the problems he was facing in the army, she would keep telling him what he should to do to solve them. Most of the time, he already knew the correct solution, and just wanted a sympathetic ear. Hearing him, I was secretly thankful that I had just quietly listened to him and not tried to make any assessment or offer any solution to his predicament.
When Elihu finally spoke up, he didn’t judge Job for perceived past sins that were not actually committed, but instead took issue with Job’s current speech. We are told “Elihu. . . became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God” (Job 32:2).
However, Elihu was also the only one of the four friends to offer hope to Job. He acknowledged Job’s predicament, and then delivered an uplifting promise of restoration and God’s goodness: “then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God’s face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being” (Job 33:26).
Elihu told Job of how God has a plan and allows suffering for our own good. He provided a new and much-needed perspective of hope.
While I was enlisted in national service, I went through a spiritual low point in terms of dealing with my own sin and, consequently, my assurance of salvation. Whenever I could get Friday evenings off, I began attending my cousin’s youth group.
The youth were nice and friendly enough, but it was the facilitator, a young woman in her 30s, who eventually took the initiative to engage me and ask how my spiritual walk was. She seemed sincere and mature, so I confided in her the troubles I was having.
We had an honest, meaningful conversation. Though I initially thought that I knew all the textbook answers applicable to my situation, it was her encouragements and prayers that really uplifted and refreshed me.
Eventually, my army commitments prevented me from joining those youth meetings altogether. But by then, thank God, I had come out of the period of spiritual doubt and depression, in large part due to this woman’s encouragement and friendship.
In summary, let’s be quick to listen and quick to hug, slow to speak and even slower to judge.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to reach out, because while we’re not perfect and may often say or do the wrong thing, we can pray and trust God to guide us in our interactions with suffering friends. May we be a blessing to those around us in their time of need.