The heavenly host surrounds the Almighty. The Enemy enters.

“From where have you come?” God asks.

“From going to and fro on the earth.”

God asks him to consider his servant Job, “a blameless and upright man.”

“Does Job fear God for no reason?”

Like Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, a cocksure Satan dares to ask God if he feels lucky. Unlike Dirty Harry, Satan does not work alone. He manipulates, coerces, and cajoles us to join him in his cause to multiply the ranks of those who curse God.

Job’s Miserable Comforters

Job’s wife is the first to be lured by Satan: “Curse God and die,” she urges him (Job 2:9). Job’s friends soon join in. “Miserable comforters are you all,” he sputters, provoked by their arrogance and lack of empathy (Job 16:1).

‘Miserable comforters are you all,’ Job sputters, provoked by their arrogance and lack of empathy.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? You were passed over for a promotion and it stung. “God has something better,” your friend assures you. Miserable comforter.

Your mom is battling COVID on a ventilator. “Don’t worry,” your cousin texts you, “99 percent of people recover.” Miserable comforter.

Your friend loses his battle with cancer. “He’s in a better place,” a friend offers. Miserable comforter.

How can we avoid the pitfall of being one of these well-meaning, but miserable comforters?

1. Don’t give trite answers. Offer your presence.

We can feel unsure when we talk to those who suffer. What do we say? How can we help? Much of what we’re taught to say cuts off grief at the pass. “He’s in a better place” cuts the legs out from the one who grieves. It puts her in a place that she has to deny her grief in order to affirm your statement. Instead, step into her grief.

Job’s friends started out right as they sat in silence with their friend. God says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13). A good mom holds her child, rocking her gently, letting her cry. This is how God cares for us and how he invites us to care for others.

2. Don’t try to draw lessons for them.

Instead, offer mercy and pray for them. Job’s friends foolishly deign to explain the why of his suffering. Perhaps Job hadn’t been generous enough. Perhaps he hadn’t been the kind of father who pleased God.

What folly for us to try to discern God’s mind. We don’t know why anyone suffers. Instead of answers, Job wanted his friends’ mercy.

Instead of answers, Job wanted his friends’ mercy.

“Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!” Job cries out (Job 19:21).

Draw near to those in grief mercifully. Don’t try to draw a simple life lesson for them. Pray urgently and frequently, and draw near to God alongside them.

3. Don’t expect a timeline.

Walk with them in their time. Job’s friends were worn out by how long it took Job to get over his loss. Bildad, exasperated, asks, “How long will you hunt for words?” (Job 18:2).

There is no timeline to chart a friend’s grief. I know dear widows who, decades after the loss of their husbands, still tear up when they talk about the love of their life. I know moms who have lost their children years earlier who hurt every day. There is nothing wrong with those whose grief lasts until they meet Jesus face to face.

A friend’s grief can be taxing. You may want them to get over their loss and get back to normal because you miss a former season of your friendship. But that might never come, at least not in the same way. Love them enough to walk at their pace. As Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

4. Don’t expect consistency.

Invite them into the real. Those suffering often feel like they must put on a good face for many in their lives. Be someone who allows the grieving to be honest. Job was lowered into places of deep despair.

“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness!” (Job 3:3–4).

Can you imagine hearing those words from a godly friend? They are shocking. Terrifying, even. But it’s a gift to be invited into that transparent space. Don’t quickly pull out the Band-Aids.

5. Don’t water down your theology.

When asked, give hard and true answers. Those suffering ask some of the hardest questions. Like Job, many of us will never fully understand why a sovereign God allows the loss and pain we experience in this life.

We are tempted to pull our punches theologically. We are tempted to diminish God’s sovereignty. “He didn’t want this to happen,” we might say. Or perhaps we’re tempted to declare confidently that the suffering has nothing to do with the sufferer’s sin. We duck James’s advice for the suffering to call the elders and confess their sin (James 5:13-16), or that God disciplines his children and suffering is sometimes part of that discipline (Heb. 12:3–8). Suffering might be part corrective or proactive discipline.

Consider Job’s Jaw-Dropping Faith

We cannot domesticate God. We cannot speak declaratively on his behalf. All we can do is hold the hands of those who are suffering and bring them to the presence of the holy, loving, and sovereign God.

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face,” Job cries out (Job 13:15).

This is a jaw-dropping faith. We are invited alongside saints like this to be present, to pray, to persist, and to speak transparently and truthfully. In this, our comfort will mirror the Comforter and the suffering servant, the Spirit and the Son, and deny Satan his intentions.