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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Empathy

You’ve been around people whose very presence reeks of positional and religious snobbery. Me too. Sometimes I’ve been that person—the one who assumes that the other’s particular suffering is the result of some deficiency on their part. The statements I make and the questions I ask further their misery. 

Sadly, Job’s friend's “consolation of condemnation” forces Job to defend himself, “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! Will your long winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches agains you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5). Job did not feel that his heart was held safely in the hands of his friends! 
Eliphaz and his three friends demonstrate that people who've not suffered struggle to enter into the suffering of others; they often end up condemning those who suffer rather than consoling them. 
Paul draws a parallel between suffering and the ministry of consolation, “Bless be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” Believers who’ve suffered often develop ministries to those who suffer similarly. Think of Joni Eareckson-Tada’s vast ministry to those with handicaps and the various ministries begun by former drug addicts to drug addicts, etc. They know what others of similar circumstances experience and they enter into their sufferings.
Several truths emerge from Job’s interaction with his friends:
  • The empathy of a friend, in word and action, minister more effectively than a religious discussion on suffering.
  • It’s okay to rebuke and dismiss the condemnation of others. 
  • Identification with, acts of service, and kindness bring greater consolation than spoken words.  
Those who’ve suffered either become bitter toward others and God or they become softer, kinder people who enter into the sufferings of others. 


A long-lasting migraine would have done Eliphaz and his friends a world of good. 

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"But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God. Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you."

The conversation between Job and his friends heats up as each of his friends takes another turn in the next round of conversation. Round two of the "verbal" boxing match begins with Eliphaz's emboldened accusations:
  • You even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God.
  • Your sin prompts your mouth . . .
  • You adopt the tongue of the crafty . . .
  • Your own mouth condemns you . . .
  • Are you . . . were you . . . do you . . . what do you . . . why has your heart . . . (Job 15:4-6)
Eliphaz and his three friends were ministers of condemnation. They demonstrate that people who've not suffered struggle to enter into the suffering of others and often end up condemning the sufferer. Condemnation angers and repels others while consolation attracts.

A variety of trials accompanied the sunny days of the summer of 2003 beginning with hospital stays, emergency room visits and a house fire; filled in with deaths, car wrecks, and family drama; and concluding with a burglary. We received a phone call from a "friend in the ministry" who actually asked my husband if we had "unconfessed sin in the camp." He assumed, like Job's friends, that our suffering was caused by some hidden sin. So unsolicited, the "brother," like Job's friends, proceeded to help us explore the issue.

More than a year passed when the house of a friend of mine burned to the ground. She has told me on more than one occasion since that my phone calls ministered to her because I really understood her pain and loss. She also has borne the brunt of sly insinuations and "spiritual" suspicions and innuendos from fellow believers as her trials continue.

The Pharisees couldn't understand Jesus' ministry to those undeserving of his attention. They condemned those Jesus touched, healed, and forgave. Tax collectors, fallen women, and the demon possessed never felt loved by the religious crowd, those who had all of the answers, those who had not suffered. Like Job's friends the Pharisees assumed that personal sin caused suffering and condemned those who suffer.

Just as a cup of hot chocolate and a roaring fire attracts those who are freezing, so those who've suffered greatly and received Christ's consolation draw those who are suffering. The Pharisees couldn't draw a hungry, dispirited, and suffering crowd. But Jesus could. "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Job 15:1-18:21
  • How does Eliphaz rationalize his comments and condemnation of Job?
  • How does Eliphaz describe the wicked and what parallels does he make with Job's life?
  • How does Job describe Eliphaz and his friends?
  • What does Job say about how he would respond if they were in his situation?
  • Who does Job hold responsible for his suffering?
  • How do those around Job respond to his physical suffering?
  • How had these same people treated him when he was a healthy rich man?
  • Describe Bildad's attitude toward Job. How does Bildad describe the wicked and what parallels does he make with Job? What assumption does Bildad make about Job and his relationship with God?
  • Review how God describes Job in Job 1:8; 2:3.
  • Are you guilty of making assumptions about others' relationship with God based on their present circumstances?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to help you respond to the suffering of others with grace and understanding and to make you a minister of consolation.