How Not to Help a Sufferer

Gavin Ortlund | February 18, 2017

Of all the Bible’s many colorful characters, none is quite so exasperating as Job’s friends. Herod might chop off your head, and Judas might stab you in the back, but Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar will hurt you with Bible verses

Job’s actual losses take two brief chapters to recount (Job 1–2), but the tortuous dialogue that follows drones on for 35 chapters (Job 3–37). I wonder which agonized Job more: his initial suffering or the extended indictment that followed?

The problem with Job’s comforters isn’t that they’re heretics. Much of what they say is true. The problem is the moralistic worldview that governs their engagement with Job, and compels them to reason backward from suffering to sin.

It’s easy to criticize Job’s friends, but let’s be honest: We can all be like them. In fact, a good litmus test of our heart’s alignment with the gospel—whether functionally we believe in a world of grace or a world of karma—is how we respond when a Job comes across our path. Suffering pulls out our real theology like a magnet.

Here are four things in particular to avoid when with a sufferer. Think of them as four ways we, like Job’s friends, can pour burning coals on the heads…

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