4 Ways to Help Someone from the Book of Job

How to Help Someone

Have you ever opened up to someone and then felt either dismissed or attacked? You bare your soul and the person reacts in a way that is not helpful at all? This is what three of Job’s friends did.

I suspect that everyone has had this experience. When it happens, it feels like they don’t care. Honestly, I think that most people do care, they just don’t know how to respond.

What is the best way to comfort a spouse, a friend, or a mentee?

The book of Job provides some insight. Job was a very wealthy man that was blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). We have a behind the scenes look at what happens to Job in chapters 1 and 2.

God gave Satan permission to take everything that he had away from him, except for his life. Job’s children and livestock were killed, taking everything that he owned. His body was inflicted with sores. His flesh is clothed with worms and dirt (7:5). His skin turns black and his bones burn with heat (30:30). Pain gnaws him and takes no rest (30:17). He is in psychological torment (30:27). His wife tells him, “Curse God and die” (2:9).

Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to comfort him. From this we can learn about effective care for the suffering. We know that Job is blameless. The friends hear Job’s sharp rejoinders and eventually fall into name-calling, accusations, and rejection.

Here are four lessons from the book of Job.

Be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Be comfortable hearing uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. Job spends a great deal of time lamenting about his condition. In chapter three Job says, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (3:26). He talks over and over again about his anguish and bitterness.

Hearing these types of emotions is difficult. As listeners, we want to make everything alright. So, we have a tendency to jump to advice and solutions. This is usually not helpful.

When you spend time with someone in pain, be aware of your own feelings of discomfort. It is difficult to hear talk of increased bitterness and losing hope.

When I have spent time with people that are struggling in their marriage, they have sometimes gotten to a point where they are losing hope. Often, the person has tried for years to express their discontent to their partner. Imagine trying for years to have a great relationship and nothing seems to change. No wonder people become bitter and discouraged.

Don’t Rush to Judgment

Job’s friends sit with him for seven days. It is only when they speak that they get into trouble. We have insight into this story that Job is righteous. His troubles have nothing to do with him. So, seeing his friends rush to judgement is very obvious.

Job’s friends dismiss his lament and tell him to be pious (4:6, 6:26). They tell him to repent and turn to God (8:13, Chapter 22). They go so far as to tell him that his complaints are sinful (15:6). They dismiss his emotions and tell him to be sensible (18:2). When Job complains about what they say, they become defensive (Chapter 20).

If you want to help your partner or your mentees, rushing to judgment is not helping someone. It’s tempting to pull out your bible and start quoting bible passages. I am guilty of doing this. I’ve learned that the judgment feels like an attack.

First Empathy, Then Wisdom

After Job’s three friends fail to comfort Job, Elihu steps in. He has been sitting there and listening to the conversation. Later in the book, God rebukes the three friends, but not Elihu (42:7). It seems that Elihu’s message is closer to God’s message.

First, he has been sitting there and listening to the conversation. He listens to Job and gives him his full attention (32:12). He also listens to the advice from the three friends. Only after listening, Elihu asks to speak.

I have found that love and grace need to be demonstrated with compassion and listening. When someone is angry, I want to listen to their anger. When they are in pain, I would like to hear it. If they are bitter, I want them to be free to speak. This means holding my tongue until I have heard them out. I pay attention to any triggers that they may have from the emotional pain.

Elihu demonstrates his wisdom by being impartial. He confronts the three friends for condemning Job (Chapter 32). He also confronts Job for speaking without knowledge (35:16).

When working with couples, I need to remind myself that both partners have hurt their spouse by how they have reacted. Often, each person feels that they are in the right and their partner is to blame. If their partner would only change, everything would be alright. I work hard to not show partiality, but to respond with empathy and acknowledge the hurt on both sides.

Recognize that Both Sides May React Poorly

If you read through the book of Job, you can pick up that both sides react poorly. Job’s three friends are judgmental and critical. Job is reacting to his pain and has not considered what wisdom he can gain.

With couples, I expect that both sides will react poorly. They have both been hurt and they react out of pain. I show grace, but I don’t allow them to attack each other.

In the story, God eventually turns up. God asks some great questions (Chapters 38, 40 – 41). However, God never asks Job to repent. God offers Job a chance to increase his knowledge and perspective. God challenges Job and focuses on increasing Job’s understanding.

It is interesting to me that the focus is not on the poor reactions, but learning and gaining knowledge. When I work with couples, I want both of them to gain great knowledge and insight of themselves and their partner. I want them to learn what hurts and what the emotional triggers are.
I want couples to learn how to love each other better.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Empathize – Job’s friends didn’t really get into trouble until they jumped to advice, correction, defensiveness, and telling Job to be pious.
  • Withhold judgement – People have reasons for their thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, we aren’t always blameless, like Job. It may be because we don’t have understanding.
  • Allow wisdom to grow – When people feel that they are not heard, they often jump to defensiveness. Hearing and grace comes first. That allows someone to grow in their own understanding and gain perspective. Wisdom does confront someone about their lack of knowledge without listening first.