Out of all the classes that I took during my undergrad time at Oklahoma Baptist University, one of the most impactful was Basic Counseling Skills. I use what I learned in that class more than most of the others in my day to day life in vocational ministry.
One thing that was repeated over and over in that class was the fact that the counselor is supposed to listen intently and ask gentle questions that get deeper into the issue at hand. What you were not supposed to do was start projecting your beliefs onto the person you were counseling, much less berate them.
That seems like some pretty common sense in my opinion.
In the case of Job and his friends, Eliphaz did not have any common sense. Sure, he started well, by simply sitting with Job in his suffering. But then he had to go and open his mouth.
Today we’re talking about Job 4. If you want a crash course in how not to counsel someone in suffering, just read it. In the previous chapter, Job has poured out his heart to the Lord and within earshot of his friends. He bemoans his suffering and despairs of life itself. Then comes Eliphaz.
Eliphaz starts strong. He reminds Job of the ways that Job himself has been an encouragement and counselor to many, how he has strengthened the weak with his guidance (vv. 3-4).
Let’s jump down to verse seven. It’s Eliphaz’s crucial mistake in my opinion.
“Remember: who that was innocent ever perished?
Or where were the upright cut off? – Job 4:7
This is the central tenant of Eliphaz’s argument (condemnation against Job really).
In his mind, the innocent never perish. The upright, morally upstanding men and women of the world never get cut off from the blessings and prosperity of the Lord.
Eliphaz’s world is black and white. Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad.
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, many of us basically adhere to such a version of Christianity in our own lives. We convince ourselves that God is ready to bless us when we’re in his Word and when we’re actively seeking His face in prayer. It gets messy though when we believe the opposite as well. That if we snooze six times and barely make it to work, skipping personal time with Him altogether, then we are going to face curses from the Lord.
This is the world of Eliphaz.
He looks at the immense suffering of his friend Job and jumps to the immediate conclusion that Job is at fault. Some secret sin in Job’s life has led to his entire world imploding.
If I was Job,
I’d have punched Eliphaz in the face.
Eliphaz had a high view of God, this can be seen through much of what he says in this first speech. Consider these verses with me.
By the breath of God they perish,
and by the blast of his anger they are consumed. – Job 4:9
‘Can mortal man be in the right before God?
Can a man be pure before his Maker? – Job 4:17
Eliphaz believed that God was powerful, that His anger consumed the wicked, that His purity and holiness was such that no one could stand before Him. I would agree with all of these assertions.
But Eliphaz got it wrong when He jumped to the conclusion that only the wicked suffer.
That’s where Eliphaz’s argument begins to break down for me. He simultaneously says that all are unable to stand before God in purity and that all who are not pure before God are punished accordingly on earth.
His view is quite depressing actually.
When I was a kid, one of my friends would say basically all the time: “Life sucks, then you die.” I think he was mostly joking, but there’s some who deep down believe that version of viewing the world.
Bad things happen perpetually and consistently, and then you die.
I feel like this was the belief system of Eliphaz.
Look at how he concludes his first counseling session with Job.
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
do they not die, and that without wisdom?’ – Job 4:18-21
That’s one of the more depressing things I’ve ever seen.
Eliphaz says God trusts no one. We are crushed like moths. We are beaten to pieces. We perish and die without anyone caring. We die without wisdom.
If you believe in a black and white world, you are forgetting the cross.
You see, we get to view the world from the other side of the cross.
We don’t get what we deserve.
Yes, the wicked seem to thrive while the righteous suffer.
But at the end of the day, Eliphaz was right. We’re not pure. We can’t stand before our Maker. We deserve punishment.
But we don’t get it.
Not in the way that we deserve.
Now, again, this is not the words you say in direct response to someone’s first venting against God in the midst of suffering. If someone came to me in the hospital bed that I was laying in after my surgery and told me “I know you’re hurting, but at least you’re not in hell”, I would have not been very happy.
But this is what you can do if you have a family member or friend in the midst of suffering.
Listen and pray.
Don’t give a speech.
I know that the Lord works in the midst of suffering. He did so in my life (Why The Long Face?). Let Him do it in his own timing.
The world isn’t black and white for the Christian.
For the Christian, there is the cross.
In His Name,