For the Suffering and Their Friends

By Jim Tune

The book of Job is mystery to me. It’s the story of immense suffering, unhelpful friends, few answers, but a great God. The more I look at the book, the more I see. It’s a book that’s so relevant to our times, for both those suffering and their friends. That’s all of us.

For those who are suffering, Job lets us know we’re not alone.

“I used to think that the book of Job is in the Bible because this story of suffering is so extreme, so rare and improbable and unusual,” says pastor and scholar Ray Ortlund. “I thought the message of the book is, ‘Look at this worst-case scenario. Now, come on. Surely in your comparatively small problems, you can find your way.’ I don’t think that anymore. Now I think the book of Job is in the Bible because this story is so common.”

Job is in the Bible because suffering is such a widespread problem. If you’re alive, you’re going to relate to Job at some point in your life.

It’s also a book that frees us from easy answers. When we suffer, we ask questions. Job does, and his friends are quick to provide answers. When God shows up, though, he doesn’t provide answers. He provides himself.

Job isn’t a book that explains all our suffering. It’s a book that shows us what God expects from us when we suffer. He wants our trust. Explanations are nice, but we need more than explanations when we suffer. We need God himself.

Suffering is a reality in this world, and explanations are few. While it’s OK to ask questions, it’s foolish to expect we’ll find neat answers for suffering, at least until eternity.

It’s also a book about how to be a friend to those who suffer. Job’s friends started out well.

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept. . . . And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:12, 13, English Standard Version).

That’s almost a perfect playbook for how to be a friend to someone who’s suffering. Then they wrecked it all by opening their mouths. When we offer glib explanations for suffering, we do a disservice to everyone around us. Sometimes we just need to be present, sit, and mourn.

Job leaves us with some simple truths: Life is brutal. Answers are few. Be slow to speak when others are suffering. Most importantly, it teaches us that God is great and can be trusted.

I’m grateful the Bible is realistic about suffering and refuses to give us glib advice. It gives us something even better: the assurance that God is in control and that we can trust him always, even when we are suffering, and even when we don’t have the answers.

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  1. Administrator Author
    March 7, 2017 at 7:55 am

    We recently moved our website to a new host. The process took several days, and as a result, several comments were temporarily lost. This is a comment made by a reader during that transition period:

    From Tom Fodi on March 2

    I serve as both a chaplain and a pastor. I’m so grateful for my experience and education as a chaplain, for it has matured my pastoral ministry a hundredfold in this light. As an immature pastor straight out of Bible college and seminary, I wanted to heal those who were suffering with my knowledge and wisdom (as if there was any to offer). Now in the chaplain/pastoral ministry for more than a decade, I can truly appreciate Jim’s words. It’s our presence, not our insight, that provides healing and solace.

    In the military we used to have a phrase, “Chaplains are a visible reminder of the holy.” Visible reminder, not an audible reminder. Visible.

    One night in the desert of Iraq I sat for hours with a soldier whose wife just demanded a divorce. Via an e-mail, he received news that his wife was packing up the kids and they wouldn’t be home when he returned from an 18-month deployment.

    The man, for obvious reasons, was distraught. He was demanding answers, not from his wife, but from God (by default, as the chaplain, that meant he was demanding answers from me). I had none. I felt helpless. In all honesty, I considered offering a trite blessing and walking away, as I was certain I didn’t have any worthwhile advice. I didn’t think I could help this soldier.

    Something came over me that seemed to whisper in my ear, “Just stay. Don’t leave him. Just stay.” So I stayed. For about 8 hours, I stayed. We sat together through the night. Off and on, the soldier slept until morning. At dawn, the soldier awoke and couldn’t believe I was still there. We talked. We prayed. Then, after he assured me he was fine and his CO arrived, I took my leave.

    A few days later, this soldier arrived at the door of our chapel (he had to have someone point it out to him as he’d never darkened the door throughout his deployment). The soldier was thankful for my time and attention. He wanted me to know that while his marital issues were far from repaired (and perhaps never would be), he would be okay.

    Then he said something I’ll never forget, and it has shaped my ministry ever since. He said, “Chaplain, I know nothing about God, if there is one, but if God is anything like you, I want every ounce of him that’s available.” These words, from a man I nearly walked away from because “I didn’t have any worthwhile advice.”
    Just be there. Just be there as a visible reminder of the God who is there and never leaves.

  2. Administrator Author
    March 7, 2017 at 7:56 am

    On March 3, Jim Tune responded to Tom Fodi’s comment:

    Tom – thank you for sharing this powerful story, along with your excellent insights.

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