The Do’s and Don’ts of Comforting

Do you find it challenging to know what to say or how to respond to people who have experienced a great loss?  We may mean well, but if we’re not careful we can easily stick our foot in our mouth.  Sometimes, in painful situations, it is better to not say anything at all, then to try to comfort those who are grieving only to offend or hurt them further.

Too often, we are like this guy:











In our passage of scripture today, we meet the “Three Amigos.”  Job’s three friends meant well and did some things well, but they also made some big mistakes with what they said. There are about 30 chapters of their distorted dialogue.

11  When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite 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

Who were these three amigos?  Eliphaz was the oldest. Eliphaz based his speeches on two things: his own observations of life (“I have seen”—Job 4:8; 5:3) Eliphaz put great faith in tradition (15:18-19), and the God he worshiped was an inflexible Lawgiver. “Who ever perished being innocent?” he asked (4:7); and a host of martyrs could have answered, “We have!” And what about our Lord Jesus Christ? Eliphaz had a rigid theology that left little or no room for the grace of God or a bigger picture.

Bildad must have been the second oldest of the three since he is named second and spoke after Eliphaz. In a word, Bildad was a legalist. His life-text was, “Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will He help the evildoers” (8:20). He could quote ancient proverbs, and like Eliphaz, he had great respect for tradition. For some reason, Bildad was sure that Job’s children died because they also were sinners (8:4)! The man seemed to have no feeling for his hurting friend.

Zophar was the youngest of the three and surely the most dogmatic. He speaks like a schoolmaster addressing a group of ignorant freshmen. “Know this!” is his unfeeling approach (11:6; 20:4). He is merciless and tells Job that God was giving him far less than he deserved for his sins! (11:6)

Now, let’s look at what they did well.   What you can you or I do to help people in grief and loss?  Two big DO’s and one big DON’T

DO Show Up.  Be there.  

11  When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, 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

Upon learning of Job’s difficulties, three of his friends came to sympathize with him and comfort him. Later we learn that their words of comfort were not helpful—but at least they came. While God rebuked them for what they said (Job 42:7), he did not rebuke them for what they did—making the effort to come to someone who was in need.  When someone is in need, let’s go to that person, but let’s be sensitive about how we comfort him or her.

Cancer survivor and author Nancy Stordahl, says, the worst thing you can do in someone’s time of grief is to, “not show up at all to offer a shoulder for someone to cry on because you’re scared you might say the wrong thing. Don’t worry too much about what you say; just speak from your heart and be ready to listen. And it’s perfectly okay to admit that you don’t know what to say or do. Your presence alone says a lot in and of itself, and your job is not to fix things anyway even though you want to.

And remember silence is so under-rated. Sometimes there are no words.

Sometimes silence isn’t ‘silent’ at all.”

Job’s friends left their businesses and families and set out to be with Job.  Our presence has power!  Let’s agree to be there for people who are hurting.  Let’s show up and show our love and support.

The second response we can have or what we can do is….

DO Feel as They Feel. (Empathy)

12  When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.
13  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was
. Job 2:12-13 (NIV)

Sympathy is to feel sorry for but empathy is try to put yourself in their shoes, to enter their pain.

Job’s friends showed grief with Job, they entered into grief with him by crying with him, tearing their robes and sprinkling dust on themselves. These were all signs of grieving in that time period and they joined with Job in his grief.

Then they sat for seven days!  Why did the friends arrive and then just sit quietly? According to Jewish tradition, people who come to comfort someone in mourning should not speak until the mourner speaks. Often the best response to another person’s suffering is silence. Job’s friends realized that his pain was too deep to be healed with mere words, so they said nothing. (If only they had continued to sit quietly!) Often, we feel we must say something spiritual and insightful to a hurting friend. Perhaps what he or she needs most is just our presence, showing that we care. Pat answers and trite quotations say much less than empathetic silence and loving companionship.

Try to feel what they feel but, “Try not to say, I know how you feel.

No two people are alike. No two experiences are alike, so no, you probably don’t know how the other person truly feels.

Instead say, I want to try to understand how you feel, tell me how you feel, I am here to listen. And then let the person share. This is not about you and your feelings. But of course, if the person wants to hear about your perhaps similar experience, by all means share. Take the cue from them.” [i]

Pastor and grief counselor of over 30 years Jim Rigby says,

“If you hear someone say, “I know how you feel” at a funeral, take them to the side and politely say, “no you don’t.” This is usually the opening for the “comforter” to talk about a loss they have suffered in their own past. It is painful to watch a grieving person have to listen to someone else’s past problems at such a painful time. Remind the comforter “this isn’t about you.”

The point is to let the grieving person know we care. We do that, by letting them set the tempo and the agenda of our conversation. And, in all my years of doing this work, I’ve never found words that are as helpful as loving and attentive silence.”

People we love and care for will suffer, have grief and loss.  What do we do? Be present, care, listen and try to feel as they feel.  We’ll look at more of what NOT to do in the next post.


Additional Souirces:  Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Wisdom and Poetry.
Life Application Study Bible.
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How Will You Respond to Pain and Loss?

What choices will you and I make when faced with unspeakable pain and loss?  How will we respond?  The story of Job is powerful. Why? It’s about the power of choice. The issue is not, “Will I someday experience a trial in my life? Will I someday experience suffering? Will I someday experience some random act of pain or violence in my life or a family member’s life? That is not really the question. The question for you and for me is, “How will we respond?”

That is the question. When we are faced with the finality of a terminal illness…cancer…divorce… death…abuse…after the shock, after the tears, after the crying out, after the phone calls and emails and text messages cease and we are left alone…how are you going to respond? How will I respond?

There are many choices, aren’t there?

In Job chapter one, Job lost it all; he lost his businesses, he lost his money, he lost his savings, he lost his employees, and worst of all he lost all ten children.  Job’s life was completely shattered. How does he respond and what choices does he make in the middle of his suffering?   In chapter 2 Job loses his health.  Job 2:7-10, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the souls of his feet to the top of his head.

Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding onto your integrity. Curse God and die.’ And he replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?’ And in all this Job did not sin in what he said.”

How does this story hit you? How does it make you feel? What does it do to your theology or your belief in God, that God would enter a wager with Satan and allow Satan to destroy Job’s life?  This is a powerful and perplexing story. It scares me. Does it scare you? It scares me because what if it happened to me, this major league level of suffering and pain? What if one day God is up in heaven and Satan and the angels come to present themselves to God and God says, “Hey, Satan, have you considered that guy down there? Have you considered Darrell? Have you considered John? Have you considered Lisa?” And God let our lives be shattered like this. What if? It is perplexing.

Look at what happened to Job’s wife. In one or two days she lost her husband’s job, their finances, their security, everything they had banked on was all gone. The ten precious kids, these babies that she carried in her womb for nine months that she nursed at her breast, that she went to their birthday parties and cheered, laughed, and watched them grow up with so much success and prosperity. All ten were gone. Dead…they were not coming back.

And now she looks at her husband and she can’t even recognize him because he was covered with boils from his feet all the way to the top of his head and they were oozing puss and all he has left to do in life is scrape himself with a piece of pottery. And what does she say, what is her option, what is her choice? I think the choice she made at this time and the choice that she wanted her husband to make is, “Are you still holding on? Believing God? Are you kidding me? Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die! If there is a God, then He doesn’t care. If there is a God, then He must be limited in His power or He would do something to intervene to stop the death of all 10 children, to lose everything, and allow you to be inflicted with all this grotesque sickness and suffering. Give up this Sunday school, pie-in-the-sky before you die God.”

Our response could be atheism. “There is no God. Or maybe if there is a God He doesn’t really care or can’t really do anything, He is irrelevant. Tragedy of this magnitude and catastrophe is usually a polarizing event that draws us closer to God or farther away from God. It is a choice.

I read recently that Ted Turner (the billionaire owner of CNN, WTBS and the Atlanta Braves) when he was a young man in high school was a devout Christian. At the age of 18 Ted Turner devoted his life to become a missionary.  But something happened to Ted’s sister, Mary Jane. She contracted a rare form of lupus and Ted watched his sister slowly die for about five years. And when she was dead, her death killed his faith in God. And he has been an atheist ever since.

Some people are going to choose atheism and some people are going to say, “Maybe God is there but I can’t handle the pain. I can’t handle the trial; I am just going to drown myself in alcohol and in drinking.” Or, “ I am just going to find some drugs whether they are prescription or non-prescription or on the street. I am going to find some drugs to lose myself, to lose and ease the pain through that.” Or, “I am going to go to work and I am going to work myself to death.” Or “I am not going to do anything. I am just going to sit there and fall into a depression.” For some it is so tough they have to try to find some outlet and they take their own life.

I think about Mother Teresa and some of her journals and letters that were released a few years back. Mother Teresa had given her life to comforting the sick and the dying in the streets of Calcutta, she lived among the poorest of the poor and there are many times in her journals where she struggled with her faith.  She doubted with God’s love for her.  She couldn’t hear or sense His presence.  She held on and kept serving even when it was not easy.

One thing that amazes me about this story of Job and about our own choices is that your choice matters to God. Job was just like you and I. When something hits our life, when a storm comes into your life or my life and it rains and it doesn’t’ stop raining and pretty soon the water rises and it floods and it starts to take us away. We don’t know where it is coming from; we don’t know what God is up to. What is amazing is that we are such small specs on this beautiful, blue marble planet called Earth but our choices are significant. They matter to God.

We saw at the end of chapter 1…what did Job say when the first round, the first wave hit him? He said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” How did Job respond? Job responded with raw worship. Then we read in chapter 2, “Shall we accept good things from God and not accept bad things from God.” What was Job saying? What was Job’s response? “God, You are in this!” And he cried out from the ashes that he was sitting on as he was scraping himself with the pottery, he said, “God You are in this! And I am going to hold onto You no matter what comes my way. I am going to hold onto You. I don’t see it, I don’t understand it. He was sad, he was mad, he was angry, he was perplexed but he said, “God I am holding onto You…I am going to trust in You no matter what.”

We will see in the following weeks that Job was no super saint…Job was just like you and just like me. As this story unfolds, as more chapters unfold in Job’s life we are going to see Job gets pretty real. But Job says, “I am going to hold on. I am going to hold onto God no matter what. I don’t care how I feel. I don’t care how disfigured I am. I don’t care if it looks like I am going to die; I am holding on.”

That is the choice we can make too.  “God, I’m holding on!”  I am confident that whatever you are going through in your life that God is watching over you. He has not forgotten you. And as you and I hold onto Him tightly, He is holding onto you and me. He will see us through, just hold on.


Additional Sources: Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Wisdom and Poetry, Life Application Bible Notes,  Dr. Ben Young, A Search for the Meaning of Suffering





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The Sources of Suffering

When suffering or troubles happen, do they always come from Satan? In Job’s story, his series of tragedies did come from Satan, but this is not always the case. The chart below demonstrates the four main causes of suffering. Any one of these or a combination of them may create suffering. If knowing why we are suffering will teach us to avoid the cause, then the causes are worth knowing. However, it is most important to know how to respond during suffering.

The Sources of Suffering

Sources Who Is Responsible Who Is Affected Needed Response
My bad choices I am Myself and others Repentance and confession to God
Others’ bad choices Person who sinned and others who allowed the sin Probably many people, including those who sinned Active resistance to the sinful behavior, while accepting the sinner
Avoidable physical (or natural) disaster Persons who ignore the facts or refuse to take precautions Most of those exposed to the cause Prevent them if possible; be prepared if they can’t be prevented
Unavoidable physical (or natural) disaster God, Satan Most of those present Ongoing trust in God’s faithfulness
Source: Life Application Study Bible.
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Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People – Part 2

What is God’s response to Satan?  This shakes me, it bothers me and it should you as well.

Job 1:12 “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well then! Everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself, do not lay a finger.’

Oh no.   Several important truths emerge from this scene, not the least of which is that God is sovereign in all things. He is on the throne of heaven, the angels do His will and report to Him, and even Satan can do nothing to God’s people without God’s permission. “The Almighty” is one of the key names for God in Job; it is used thirty-one times. From the outset, the writer reminds us that, no matter what happens in this world and in our lives, God is on the throne and has everything under control.

Satan can touch God’s people only with God’s permission, and God uses it for their good and His glory. Phillips Brooks said, “The purpose of life is the building of character through truth.” God is at work in our lives to make us more like Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29), and He can use even the attacks of the devil to perfect us. When we are in the path of obedience and we find ourselves in a severe trial, let’s remind ourselves that nothing can come to our life that is outside His will.

Because God gave Satan permission, he attacked Job.

Job went from the greatest man in the East—“Time Man of the Year”—to a pitiful beast that had lost everything! He lost his money, his savings, his 401K, his job, his company, his employees, and most importantly, he lost every single one of his children—dead in a moment! He had nothing left, except his wife and his health. Unbelievable! Suffering that pounds down on you like a relentless storm, or a rushing flood that keeps coming, and coming, and coming, and coming has been going on since the dawn of mankind. The reality of suffering is tough! It’s harsh! It’s real! It’s painful…It pushes us off into the deep end of life and makes us start asking questions, and making decisions that we never dared dream we’d have to make.

There are all kinds and varieties of loss and suffering.  Suffering that is from the consequences of our choices, suffering that is the consequences of other’s choices, our fallen world that is broken, and there is the kind of suffering that is hard to explain where it came from. In the book of Job we’re looking at the kind of suffering that comes out of nowhere.  Job’s kind of suffering is not deserved or explained to him.   We too may face something we don’t deserve it, and we can’t figure it out! We’re mad, and we’re angry, and we’re in pain, and we’re wondering why it is happening? Primarily, “Why is it happening to me? God, where are You?”

As I’ve walked this journey with God on earth, I’ve discovered that suffering is a part of the package. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, or an agnostic, or a Christian, a Buddhist, or whatever your religious perspective is, we’re going to have to deal with suffering, pain, and tragedy.

From the Christian world-view, I’ve discovered that suffering is a part of the package, but it’s not only a part of the package of following God; it’s also somehow a part of His wonderful, terrible, awful, beautiful plan for our lives.

Job lost it all! It was all gone! The company was gone. The money was gone. The sounds of his children laughing—gone. How was he going to respond? All Heaven and all Hell were waiting to see how Job was going to respond.

2At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.[a]

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

How did Job respond when he was pushed out into the deep end of life? He responded with raw worship. Not “Zippity-do-dah! Praise God! He’s going to make everything better” worship! No! Raw worship! He looked to his beginning. He said, “I came into this world naked.” He looked at the very end—“I’m going to die naked” and he said “In between, I’m going to hold on to God! I’m going to hold on for His wonderful, mysterious, painful plan, no matter what, because I trust in Him!” Basically what Job was saying was this, “You know Lord, despite the fact that I’ve lost everything; somehow I believe that You are in this. God, somehow, You’re in this mess. God, somehow, You are in this pain that I am facing and going through. Somehow, You are in the middle of it.”

We can’t control the level and the amount of pain, suffering and loss we’re going to experience in life. We can’t control it! Suffering is a reality. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when and how much… But one thing we can control, and that is our response to suffering.  We can control our response to pain. One of the realities and truths I want write about in the following few weeks is, How do we respond? How do we make wise choices? Godly choices? Healthy choices that allow us somehow to transcend, and in some circumstances, allow even the pain and the hurt, and the chaos to actually transform our lives?

“It is not the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives; for that is as inevitable as death. It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives.”  Jerry Stitzer

It’s interesting as we look at Job, as we read this ancient story, this ancient piece of literature, or poetry.  We have an advantage that he didn’t have. First of all, we can read the story, and like when we rent a DVD, we have the behind-the-scenes, how-they-made-the-film version. The director is talking, “Well, what’s really going on here is this cosmic wager that doesn’t make very much sense between God and Satan.” But we know that. Job doesn’t know that! Job is just experiencing the raw, rugged reality of suffering like we do—cold, tough, and seemingly random.

We also have another advantage that Job did not have. We know God’s response to our suffering. Christianity teaches that God has become a Man in Jesus Christ. He has entered into our world. Jesus entered into our pain; He entered into our loneliness; He entered into our rejection. He took the rejection; He took the pain; He took the violence upon Himself. He took all evil upon Himself on the Cross. He died, but He rose again.

Now, when we pray and cry out to God like Job did, in the middle of our pain, in the middle of our suffering; we know that we have a God who can relate to what we’re going through, because He Himself has been in the middle of it, and He has passed through the pain and suffering. So Jesus knows what it’s like.

How did God respond to our pain and suffering? He responded with a suffering Savior who can give us strength; who can give us power; who can empathize, and sympathize with whatever we’re going through! That is the kind of God we worship! We don’t worship some impersonal force; some God who is way up there from a distance who is remote! We worship a God who has actually come near and entered into our world, and entered into our pain. It doesn’t solve the riddle; it doesn’t solve the mystery of the big question; but we know that God understands.

It’s not so much that God has a wonderful plan for your life and mine, though I believe He does have a plan! He does have a purpose. Maybe a better way to phrase it is that God doesn’t so much have a wonderful plan for our lives; but God has a wonderful Person for our lives. That Person is the God-Man, Jesus, the One with the scars on His hands, and feet, and side; the One who has conquered even death and the grave for us. He’s with us even when life pushes us out into the deep end. He’s with you, he is with me.  Thank you Lord Jesus.


Additional Sources: Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – Wisdom and Poetry, Life Application Bible Notes,  Dr. Ben Young


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