Having summarized the dialogues and diatribes that took place in chapters 4-27 of the Book of Job, we observed extensive evidence of poor counseling, applied by Job’s friends to his case of heart-wrenching affliction. We’ve already seen how everything they had to say was not necessarily bad or even incorrect, yet the way they offered counsel and the misapplications that they made leave them open to criticism. Fortunately, we can take this criticism of their counsel and use it as a guide, negatively, for our own counseling opportunities.
With that, below is a summation, though certainly not exhaustive, of 9 examples of poor counseling or how not to counsel those going through a period of affliction, primarily collated from the speeches of Job’s friends.
- Do not immediately equate affliction with a specific sin
- Insensitivity; lacking compassion and pity.
- Focusing on emotion filled words, rather than the condition of the afflicted; Failure to allow grace-filled latitude.
- Looking to win a debate, rather than comfort the afflicted.
- Using theology as a club, particularly the sovereignty of God.
- Twisting or abusing Scripture to support your point or undermine the views of the afflicted.
- Failing to allow room for grace when the afflicted are emotionally overwhelmed.
- Attacking the character of the afflicted for the sake of proving a theological point.
- Doubting or denying the faith of the afflicted in their emotionally fragile state.
Rather than taking the path that Job’s friends took by focusing on his words and attempting to verbally beat him into submission and admission of guilt, it is often best to comfort the afflicted and to weep with those who weep, as we read in Job 2:12.
Speaking to the deficiencies of Job’s counselors, Calvin writes,
By this we are admonished, when we wish to comfort neighbors in their sorrows and trials, not to jump to conclusions; as there are many who are forever harping on the same string and they do not consider the person to whom they speak, for we must treat one person differently from another. For if there is someone who is obstinate against God, we must speak in a style and language different than we would toward a poor creature who innocently wandered. And then according to what the evil is, there is also need to be warned how to proceed against it. For example, if men are stupid, we must cry out and rebuke their indifference, in order that they may learn about the hand of God, in order to humble themselves under it. There is, then, need of great prudence when we wish to properly comfort those who God afflicts. This is what we have to remember from the passage (Job 16:2), when it is said that those who attempted to comfort Job were tiresome, since they did not bring to him anything from which he could profit. This, then, is what we have to remember especially.
The book of Job is not primarily a counseling handbook, as we’ve seen. However, once we work through our interpretation of the book, a clear application is how to properly deal with affliction and how to counsel those who are being afflicted. Here, with Calvin, we are reminded that a one-size fit all solution to the numerous sorrows that we as a fallen humanity face is simply inadequate and is indeed the failed strategy of the poor counselors of Job.
Without detailing proper counseling techniques, which could be numerous and case-specific, it would seem then that it is more prudent to disciple in prosperity than to counsel in adversity. Let us teach our brothers and sisters how to handle adversity and how to remain faithful in the face of affliction before that time comes, and it will come. In this way, discipleship is always preparatory for the next affliction. Generally speaking it would seem that too often we have gone to great lengths in our counseling because we have not done the necessary work of discipleship.
Affliction is the theological training ground of God. Allow Him to have His good work in refining His people and removing the dross from their (our) lives. The principle role of a friend in these trials should be that of a loving arm of compassion, intercessory prayer on their behalf, and consistently pointing those who suffer to the Word of Almighty God.