Eli, Bill and Z started out well in comforting their grieving friend Job (see post 07/31/08). Let him who has ears, hear: they were on a roll until they opened their mouths. From there, the whole thing went south faster than you can say “toasted foot sandwich”.
What can you say to someone who has suffered a great loss? Eli, Bill and Z teach us what not to say. They tried to come up with a reason for what had happened. Eli started with an admonition that Job’s tragedy must have resulted from sin, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” (Job 4:7). Even if someone dies with needle tracks and a syringe in their arm, this is not the way to approach a grieving family.
Bill chimes in with a strategy for Job to alleviate his suffering, “If you are pure and upright, even now he [God] will rouse himself on your behalf” (Job 8:6). Z agrees that Job just needs to “Put away the sin that is in your hand” (Job 11:14). Is God’s comfort something the broken-hearted must earn by responding correctly to their loss?
The danger is the kernel of truth behind the guys’ advice. Yes, we can draw closer to God by examining our lives and repenting of anything that separates us from full intimacy with Him. But when we are crushed beyond measure, God is full of grace and mercy. He longs to attend His children in their sorrow. Our sacred task as believers is to reflect this to our fellows.
When approaching the bereaved, we do well to always ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom. The greatest gifts we may bring are our presence, our unedited sorrow and a welcoming silence even when it feels uncomfortable. More harm than good results when we try to explain the inexplicable. The full account of Job’s journey demonstrates that there is ALWAYS more to the story than we mere mortals are apt to know or understand.
May you feel His grace today,
The last Word:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55: 8, 9 (NIV).