I taught a Bible study recently on the subject of suffering. My take-away was the shocking reality that this group of men either had never been around those who were suffering emotional trauma or were simply of the mind that those who suffer deserve it. “Well, they must have brought it on themselves,” was a comment that left me flabbergasted. Facial expressions and body language indicated that others believed the sufferer either deserved it or they should buck up and take it. Thankfully, there were two that seemed to get it and had a more merciful view of suffering. Since we just celebrated Easter, I wondered if some of this group believed Jesus deserved crucifixion, but I didn’t have the courage to ask.
Comforting the suffering is part of what a hospice Chaplain does. In the Book of Job, we come across three men, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. At first, they modeled outstanding pastoral care skills when they sat in the dust with Job and remained silent for 7 days and nights. I invite you to read the previous article on this subject (March 24, 2016)
Something changed their attitudes. They became harsh and cruel in their diatribes as to why Job suffered. Why someone suffers is far secondary to treating the wound. Who can argue with Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” People need comfort and rebuilding. When David reflected upon his life in Psalm 23:4, he said, “He restoreth my soul.” Restore in Hebrew has the word picture embedded in it that portrays something of value broken into many pieces…so many pieces that it would take a master-fixer-upper to put it together. God restored David’s soul…not once, not twice, but many times. Since David was elderly when he wrote this Psalm, his reflections on God build our souls.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar went from excellent comforters to horrid comforters. Paul Tautges is a kindred spirit when it comes to this subject. He writes in www.counselingoneanother.com:
Be like Counselor Eliphaz.
- Automatically assume that sin is the cause of your friend’s suffering and, therefore, God’s hand of corrective discipline is upon him, thus implying that even the death of his children was somehow his fault (Ch. 4-5).
- When your spiritual friend, who is experiencing deep suffering, tries to explain his situation to you, assume he is just putting spin on his story in order to justify himself. Tell him he is full of the wind and will ultimately come to destruction anyway because he is so wicked (Ch. 15).
- Be sure to remind him that he is a great sinner who is greedy, cruel, and needs to get right with God. Leave no room for grace (Ch. 22).
Be like Counselor Bildad.
- Conclude that—because the wicked do not ultimately prosper—your friend is wicked and be sure to tell him…just in case he has forgotten (Ch. 8).
- Only use fear to motivate him to repent by repeatedly drawing his attention to the future destruction of the wicked (Ch. 18).
- When you run out of things to say then resort to name-calling; Maggot is always a pretty good choice (Ch. 25).
Be like Counselor Zophar.
- Have no mercy upon the sufferer and don’t empathize with his difficult situation. If he dares to open his heart to you—revealing his deepest doubts and fears—don’t give him a patient listening ear followed by gentle, probing questions. Instead, tell him he talks too much (after all, he is just whining), is lying, and only getting half of what he deserves anyway, therefore, he should repent (Ch. 11).
- Be sure to remind him that he will suffer the fate of the wicked man. Whatever you do, don’t give him hope (Ch. 20).
In a nutshell, if you want to be a miserable comforter then nurture a hyper-active connection between personal sin and every form of suffering and be sure to remind your spiritual friends that they are the ultimate cause of their suffering (that they are sovereign) and that the one-word answer is always “Repent!”
Getting back to my Bible study group… Great damage is done both in families and churches when errant views of suffering and how to engage the sufferer prevails. I have several powerful and painful patient stories that reflect this horrid and cruel way of treating one who was recently bereaved. Is it any wonder that elderly John the Apostle concluded his worship services by exhorting his congregation to “Love one another, for love is of God.”
Chaplain colleagues, comfort your patients and their families. They need what you provide.