Certainly we should pray for wisdom and do what we can to offer them Biblical comfort and hope - but how do we react to their words spoken in fear or pain? I agree, sin is sin - if someone speaks against God, it is not somehow excusable or acceptable because they are going through a difficult time in their lives. However, it is understandable. They need to repent of their words toward the Lord that were spoken out of rashness or anger. I believe it is wrong to simply overlook them (in the sense that we give the person the impression that it is alright to rant against God), and they need to be addressed - but in what way?
I have been thinking about some passages from Job, and I want to bring them forth for consideration.
1) Seek To Offer Comfort:
Job 2:11-13 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.
Job's friends were to be commended for seeking out Job to offer him comfort; however, as the book goes on to show, they did not have the right perspective on his suffering and placed blame upon Job, and condemned him, rather than truly being a help or comfort to him. From the Scriptures, we can glean general principles on the why of trials (two main principles we can apply to every trial: it is to draw us closer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make us more like Him) - though we ourselves may not know all the specific reason(s) why someone is going through a particular trial. Other reasons may be to chastise us, to test us, to strengthen our faith, to bring growth and development in a certain area of our lives, to produce Christlike virtues in us (such as selfless love, true patience/perseverance - which only trials can do), to allow us to experience something that the Lord may later use in our lives to be a comfort or blessing to others, etc.
We can encourage them to keep (or put) their eyes on the Lord, to cling to promises in His Word, to consider what the Lord is doing in that trial, to encourage them to repent if they themselves are convinced the trial was caused due to chastisement (the Lord will let them know - He doesn't chastise His children without revealing the sin to them), to remind them where their faith should be (ie. have the right perspective), to wean them from the world or worldly influences, to exhort them to be a blessing and a witness to those around them (rather than being self-consumed), to challenge them to dig deep into the Scriptures and to seek God's wisdom (James 1:5-8 is in the context of seeking wisdom in the midst of trials). There is so much the Lord desires to do in us and through us in each trial - we need to be steadfastly focussed on Him, and allow His Holy Spirit to teach us through this trial - rather than be so determined to get out of the trial that we are not open to His conviction and leading.
Job went through his trials without knowing the why behind them. He did not know they were a test allowed by God. His three friends were wrong in assuming that Job was involved in unrepentant sin and that was the reason for the trials. We know that was not the case because of the testimony of Job given by God Himself in the early chapters of the book. Job's words of grief, confusion, and perhaps anger were spoken without knowledge:
Job 42:3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
Job assumed God was against him and wanted to cause him affliction and questioned God's goodness or fairness toward him as a result. Yet, we see both Job and his friends were wrong - and this book gives us many answers that they did not have during the trial itself. Yes, Job had great faith in the Lord - but it needed to be tempered, and he needed to keep trusting even in the dark, which at times in his trials he failed to do. We need not be harsh or condemning of Job for this as far as I know of Scripture and life experiences, next to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, I don't think anyone else will ever go through as great a trial as Job did. Maybe I am wrong, but I think God gave us a worst case scenario and showed us He was still in control and we can still trust Him regardless of whatever we may go through.
Eliphaz, the first of Job's friend to speak, made these comments:
Job 4:2-6 If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved? but who can withhold himself from speaking? Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled. Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
I have read this book over and over in the sixteen years that I have been saved and I fully believe Eliphaz was right to rebuke Job's lack of faith or trust in the Lord here. But lately I have been considering how he stated this - as that would have made all the difference. Was it as a friend, trying to lift up his fallen brother? (See Upheld By The Lord) "Job, don't forget about all that God has done for you. Remember all the times you upheld and strengthened others that were falling? God is still the same, He is still as faithful today. Keep looking up to Him, Job!" Or was it more of a condemning nature? "Job, what is wrong with you? Where is your faith? What happened to all your words of comfort and hope for others? Was that all just talk? Was it easy to talk without having experienced these trials for yourself? Were all your words of faith just vain and empty now that you are going through hard times?" Knowing how his three "friends" had condemned Job, I am starting to think perhaps this is how he began his conversations with Job.
About a month or two ago, I had a man come to my office for "counselling" who had very recently lost his wife. I tried to share some of what I experienced with the loss of my parents and several friends within the last few years, and how the Lord comforted me and gave me hope in those dark times. Unfortunately, this man really did not want to hear anything, he did not want to put his eyes back on the Lord - he just wanted to have a pity party, which was sad. To everything I said his response was basically, "I know all that. Your losses don't compare to mine, and you are really not a help," though it was him who had sought out me. I did not condemn the man in any way for his grief or his loss. I did ask him some questions about the situation that led to the loss of his wife, and to determine where they both were spiritually. They both professed to be saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation - so I focussed on the hope we have in Christ and that he would see her again at the rapture. I shared how God's Word and His Holy Spirit comforted me, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear. Who was I to compare my insignificant trials to his!! No, I don't know everything, but I have been through some fiery trials. They may not compare to the trials of some others, but they are what the Lord has allowed in my life to be a source of comfort and strength to others, as 2 Corinthians speaks about:
2 Corinthians 1:3-6 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
It is not all about me - it is about our Saviour and the promises in His Word! Being able to identify in some measure with the afflictions of others is of tremendous benefit in being a source of comfort to them.
Note: This theme ended up being a bigger subject to tackle than I had originally anticipated. To make it a little easier to read, I have broken it up into smaller sections.
Part Two: Remember Words Of Grief Are Often As The Wind, Spoken Without Meaning