June 29 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“I also could speak like you, if you were in my place….But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” ~ Job 16:4-5

“Miserable comforters are you all!” Job announces to his friends in frustration (Job 16:2). After an initial period of sympathetic silence, the four men carry on a tense dialogue about the cause of Job’s tragedy. Job’s friends think he is in denial about his sin and is too proud to admit it. He just doesn’t get that repentance is the only way to justify this sorrowful turn of events and, more importantly, to get back all that he has lost! “When will you end these speeches?” Bildad asks in exasperation. “Be sensible and then we can talk” (Job 18:2).

Bildad really is a miserable comforter, isn’t he? The words of his diatribe in chapter 18 are sharp, cutting, and also untrue. It is good for us to learn from him and his two cohorts about what isn’t helpful to others when they are suffering. The roots of suffering are so complex that simplistic answers will not do. Here are five causes found repeatedly in Scripture:  Sometimes, (1) suffering is brought about by a person’s sin. But sometimes, (2) it is brought about by another person’s sin (his/her failure or wrongful treatment). Sometimes, (3) suffering is the result of the fall, what theologians call the “curse of sin” (sickness, disaster, death, etc.). But sometimes, (4) it is the result of a frontal attack by Satan. And finally, there is God. Sometimes, (5) He brings suffering into our lives for our good and His glory.

To add to the complexity, any number of causes can be combined. For example, a person may endure unjust suffering at someone else’s hand (#2) that has been allowed by God (#5). In the midst of the painful experience, the sufferer may choose to respond in a vindictive manner, and thereby set him- or herself up to face social or even legal consequences for sin (#1). See how a situation can begin to look like a tangled fishing line of cause and effect? Added to the already knotted circumstances is the possibility that there are things going on that we are not aware of. Suffering can be a bewildering and mystifying experience for everyone!

When comforting those who are in pain, I have learned that it is often better to simply be present and do a lot of listening. There is one line that I use a lot, “I’m not sure what God is up to right now; I don’t always understand His ways.” I assure people of God’s love, and of mine, and I affirm that they can make it through their difficult time by His grace. I remind them that God has good plans for them on the other side of suffering, even if they cannot see it right way. And I let them ask why without giving a lot of answers, although I’m not afraid to say, “I’m not sure” or “I wish I knew”. The truth is that I usually spend more time gently replying, “No, I don’t think it’s that,” especially when they say things like “God hates me” or “God is punishing me.”

In time, we may try to help people untangle the messy fishing line, but sometimes what they need is for us to sit out on the dock and listen, offer comfort, and assure them of our love for them. May God help us to be generous and kind comforters rather than miserable ones!

Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.