Job 5:17-18 and What Not to Say to Someone Suffering

Satan cast out of heaven.

Satan cast out of heaven.

I know Job’s friends mean well; they would not have come to visit if they did not care. Nevertheless, what they say could be a case study in what not to say to someone who is suffering. Take these two verses for example:

Look, happy is the person whom God corrects; so don’t reject the Almighty’s instruction. He injures, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal.

Job has lost all of his wealth. His children are all dead. He has open sores that fester and are infected with parasites. He is not happy! Not only does this statement not take into account what Job, the one suffering here, actually feels, it is not completely truthful, either.

Statements like this have a lot of truthiness to them–they sound like they are true but are not necessarily true. The major issue in Job that will be visited over and over again is the idea that God does everything in this world, good or bad. If someone is prosperous it is from God. If someone is destitute it is from God. This kind of thinking ultimately makes God the source of evil in the world since God is the only one who is acting in this situation.

What is worse is when people try to defend this position and say something ridiculous to defend it. One of Job’s friends, speaking specifically of Job’s children’s deaths, stated, “If your children sinned against him [God], then he delivered them into the power of their rebellion” (8:4). So taking this logic to its ultimate conclusion, six million Jews sinned against God and he destroyed them in the Holocaust during World War II. People in the Midwest sinned against God so he sent tornadoes to destroy them. The workers in the Twin Towers and the travelers on the airplanes sinned against God so he destroyed them. If we make the same critical assumption Job and his friends did–that God is the only one responsible for action in the world–then God becomes the author of evil.

We have an enemy, an adversary, who is a deceiver and a liar. God is not the only one at work in the world. The devil is also at work and many times the evil is from him. There will be no order or reason behind that evil because it is fueled by hate and rage, and neither of those make any logical sense. If Job and his friends knew this, the book would have been much shorter than it is because they would not have had to try and explain why God is either just or unjust in the situation in which Job finds himself.

Sometimes bad things happen and there is no identifiable reason for it. Sometimes horrendous evil occurs and no one can explain why. It is not because God did it. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence between the circumstances of our lives and our faithfulness before God. If we are faithful, sometimes we still suffer. If we are disobedient, sometimes we prosper. This is because the devil is also at work in this world.

Trying to ease the suffering of someone by saying God is teaching them a lesson is not only insensitive to the suffering happening, it may just be a lie, too.


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