Learning How to Comfort the Mourning: What to Do and Not Do from the Book of Job

Learning How to Comfort the Mourning: What to Do and Not Do from the Book of Job

Job was grieving great losses. His children had been killed. He had lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. And yet, when facing the choice to worship God or walk away from Him, Job blessed the name of the Lord and remained sinless in his mourning. Then Satan attacked Job’s own health and his wife told him to curse God and die. But Job was steadfast and held onto hope.

Apparently Job’s friends heard about what happened:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11-13

The friends did a few things right: they came, the wept with him, and they sat. They shared in Job’s suffering. They didn’t think Job’s bad luck would rub off on them.

Then things went downhill when Job’s friends started talking. Eliphaz said, “Is not your evil abundant?  There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5). Bildad said, “Indeed, the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine” (Job 18:5). Zophar said, “But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last” (Job 11:20).

The friends went from comforting to condemning. And while it is true a good friend should point out areas of possible sin in your life, when areas of sin can’t be found, they don’t keep blaming you for the situation.  These friends were wrong in the observations and judgments. Job even said, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (16:1). 

By the end of the book of Job, God corrected them and made sure Job knew the truth. In chapter 42, God rebuked the friends, saying to Eliphaz, “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (v. 7). The friends made an offering to appease God’s anger and God accepted Job’s prayer for them.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar certainly learned lessons on how to be a good friend through this experience. Here’s what I learned from their story:

  1. Show up. This may be the #1 thing they did right. If it were set in our time period, we could say they didn’t avoid eye-contact and duck into the bathroom when they saw him coming. They didn’t ignore his texts or Facebook updates that were clearly cries for help. They engaged. That engagement was a gift to Job. As I wrote in Speechless, “It is a gift to be asked, ‘How are you doing?'”
  2. Mourn with them. When the pain is fresh and raw, it’s not the right time to start with the Christian cliches or easy answers. Like Job’s friends, mourn together and sit together until the suffering person is ready to talk.
  3. Help the person reflect on personal responsibility in the situation. When the time comes, you can gently help the person see if he or she did anything to contribute to the situation. Was there a sin that needs to be confessed? Is there an apology that needs to be given? A true friend will gently lead the person to responsibility and restoration.
  4. Avoid judgment. This is where Job’s friends failed the most. Even though Job didn’t sin, his friends kept insisting he did. They put unnecessary blame and guilt on Job. They made a hard situation even harder and God held them responsible for that.
  5. Don’t gossip about the situation. We don’t see this in the story, which is a good thing. I think Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar knew better after their rebuke from God. But we see it in our own lives again and again. Maybe we need to remember to remember what God has already said about our speech: “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,” (Eph. 4:29) and “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends,” (Prov. 16:28),

When Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar left Job and headed to their homes, I hope they learned what they did right and wrong. The next time a friend called, I hope they were even better comforters.

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I’m Sandra Peoples. I’m a pastor’s wife and a special-needs mom. But to be honest, those descriptions weren’t my plan A. Click here to learn more about my journey.