Caring Christians or Miserable Comforters?

We all can learn to be better helpers and carers:

Most Christians would know something about Job and the Old Testament book that deals with him. God allowed him to be massively afflicted and to endure all sorts of mega-trials and hardships. Word got out about these major calamities, and so we read this in Job 2:11:

“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.”

‘Well, that was nice of them’ you say. Not quite, if you read the rest of the book! They all came to Job and gave him lengthy speeches about why he was suffering so much. Little of it was helpful. So Job had to say this to them: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2). And later in the book God even rebukes these three lousy comforters (Job 42:7-9):

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

There is a lesson for all of us in this. Whether it is three church deacons coming to visit you in your troubles, or Christian friends speaking to you on the social media, care is always needed. How we respond to someone in great pain or trials or suffering can really make a difference. We can be a great help or a great hindrance to them.

The truth is, we know – or we certainly should know – that there are a lot of hurting people out there. And many of them are Christians. Anyone reading the Bible or simply having a bit of humanity should realise this. Yet there are some folks who call themselves Christians who do not seem to know – or care.

While I will mention a recent experience of mine in this regard, this is really NOT about me – it is about all those who suffer. There are right ways and wrong ways to show our care and compassion. And when people are really going through the wringer and can be quite discouraged and depressed – even suicidal – we must make sure we respond to them in a wise, loving and godly fashion.

Most folks who are suffering anywhere near to what Job was do NOT need lectures and sermons. They need love and empathy. They often do not need any words – just a hug and a loving presence. And practical things, like a meal, or an errand done for them.

I recently wrote about a very bleak psalm – psalm 88. Although I briefly mentioned my own situation, it was mainly about biblical truths and some helpful Christian quotes. And as usual when I write a piece, I will quote snippets of it on the social media. That was the case with this piece.

A number of kind souls came back saying they were praying for me and thinking of me and so on. That is always terrific to hear, and is a main reason I share things like that. Not everyone was this way, however. One guy was just way off, and I had to delete his nasty comments, and he will be blocked if he comes my way with trash talk like that again.

He rebuked one Christian who was being quite helpful to me, saying he was “not born again.” He also said this: “Repent from your satanic false Christianity and read the Bible.” Good grief! Then he said this to me in part: “Sounds like somewhere you have listened to a satanic Christian from a bulls**t Bible college.”

Wow. So there he was, trying to hold himself up as some spiritually superior and godly Christian, all the while condemning us, judging us, and even swearing at us! Talk about a miserable comforter. Who needs ‘Christians’ like this in their life?

Thankfully another gal was in a much different league. I believe she cared and was doing her best, but to be honest, I had some problems with her remarks. She posted a longish comment, indicating some sympathy, but she sort of lectured me, saying there are many people who are much worse off than I (something I have said repeatedly on the social media!).

She said lots of folks were giving me words of encouragement, but she said I needed to watch out that I am not “becoming addicted” to them. And she said, “you’re feeling sorry for yourself”. So let me deal with that, again, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of others.

First, can folks who are going through hard times sometimes end up throwing pity parties and feeling sorry for themselves? Yes, it can often happen, and I could be guilty of this at times. I have spoken and written about these very things. If a person is indeed falling into a lot of self-pity, it can be a loving and caring Christian thing for a brother or sister to gently point this out to them.

However, a few things can be said. In this case, the person really does not know all that much about me, aside from what is revealed in my various social media posts. But for anyone actually suffering, real discernment is needed: are they struggling greatly and in need of real help and support, or might they need a bit of a kick in the pants to get them out of a pity party?

It is not always easy to tell, even if someone is your close friend. So does a social media acquaintance have that much inside knowledge and discernment about you? Good question. If I knew of a social media friend who was going through quite a lot of trouble and hardship I probably would not just come out with a public rebuke like this. Such a concern could still be uttered, but with two provisos.

One, I would perhaps do it in a private message, not for the whole world to see. And two, it is always good form to be a bit more sympathetic by being more inclusive. And asking questions instead of making bold assertions is often much preferred. I would not even be writing this article had she done those two things.

Had this person simply rephrased things along these lines it would have been fine, ‘Bill I hear you. As you would know, we all must guard against getting into pity parties, and so on. Do you think this might be a part of your situation at the moment? I am just asking here – not judging you. And I will hold you up in constant prayer – bless you mate.’

Or something like that. Had she put things that way, I would have liked her comment, thanked her for it, and praised her for her care. But sadly that was not how her care was expressed, so that is not how I responded! And again, I am trying to think of others who really are right now in a mental, emotional and spiritual pit, and they may well feel like there is no way out.

The truth is, sadly some folks – even Christians – can be so depressed and suicidal that a somewhat harsh or reckless remark just might be enough to push them over the edge. Yes, some Christians DO commit suicide. If we think they are at all in a really bad way, we really must guard our tongues and be wise in what we say.

And one can take all this further. The first commentator I mentioned is likely into the name-it-and-claim-it theology, and really believes that no Christian should ever say or think a negative thought. That person is nowhere near to biblical Christianity.

The piece I had written was about the lament psalms. Are we really to believe that all the lament psalmists were just feeling sorry for themselves and needed to repent of negative thoughts? Or Jeremiah, the weeping prophet? Or Jesus when he actually asked the Father why he was forsaking him? Or Paul when he penned his many hardship lists? Or great Christian leaders throughout history who went through major bouts of depression, including Charles Spurgeon, to name just one?

Let me make this clear. Depression is real, and Christians are not immune from it – nor are they immune from suicidal thoughts. Both were a problem for me as a non-Christian, and as I have acknowledged more recently, these things can still dog me as a mature believer.

A lesson I have hopefully learned from all this is as follows: people hurt, and we often know next to nothing about what they are actually going through. Sometimes in our zeal to offer Christian help and comfort, it might have been better to wait a bit first, pray a bit more, and see if what we were planning to say was really worth sharing.

Comments can hurt, and when your soul is already rather sore and raw, even a comment with good intent can often cause even more grief. I would hate to be that person who causes a brother or sister to stumble in that way – or worse yet, to cause them real harm.

So I need to pray about being more caring and cautious in what I say and do – even when I think I am trying to help someone. Real comforters are a blessing from God. Miserable comforters, like Job’s three friends, can much more be a curse from our adversary.

[1700 words]

7 Replies to “Caring Christians or Miserable Comforters?”

  1. Bill, you are entitled to grieve and mourn for Averil and don’t let anyone tell you differently! She was God’s preordained and chosen soulmate for you, the woman you loved, and you are displaying your profound respect for the virtues of fidelity and the sanctity of marriage by continuing to testify what she meant to you and what you learnt from your ordeal with her illness and passage to glory. Although you will see her again, one day, when you join her in Heaven, you are being a loving and caring Christian husband and honouring the vows you made when you married one another.

    It is quite natural to feel depressed and lost when you lose the love of your life and you are no less a Christian if you continue to grieve and mourn. I know I do, for my own late husband. Again, prayer, scriptural reflection and finding a good Christian counsellor to support you through the process can help. I know it did for me when I lost my own beloved Ernest. Also, know that you are in my prayers constantly, and I suspect, not in mine alone. May you be comforted and consoled by our Lord and Saviour’s compassion, grace and mercy.

  2. Thanks Bill, I agree, it is good to remember Job’s case and tread lightly as we don’t know what is going on in the spiritual world or in other people’s lives. I have a Christian friend at the moment who has a Christian daughter with stage 4 cancer that has metastasied into other parts of her body, she is only late twenties I guess. All we can do is pray daily for her healing and that doctors know what to do but I have told her mother that I have sent prayer requests to a number of Christian ministries that will pray for her and she replied so far saying ‘things are on the improve.’

  3. In my 23 years as a christian, I’ve probably had more grief from other believers than I have of the lost.
    Not long ago, had a lady from church report me to the elders because she heard me share (our church does food outreach and we come along side folk and love them, looking for opportunities to share Christ with them) my struggles with depression to a person who was visiting, who he himself told me he was struggling with suicidal thoughts.
    I explained how I too still struggle with the blackness and have a few times wished I was taken, but thankful for Christ in me, as he is my strength that keeps me going.
    Her complaint was that I gave a bad witness and didn’t give him a “victory” message and overcoming message.
    Thankfully elders sided with me and pretty much gave her a loving rebuke.

  4. Thank you Bill. You are so right in sharing this. As Christians we are to be Christ to any person suffering and to remember Gods command to love others. We are never told to do them harm or throw words out that cause harm.
    Paul said we have many parts in the Body of Christ e.g. the hand and foot can’t do without each other and he says to support all parts and those who grieve, those who suffer or are in prison.
    In our society through COVID, the isolation caused enormous pain and hurt and many were affected and now is the time to grow stronger together, build up each other and encourage, and to get alongside of any who are in need.
    P.S. I hate to think what emails Job would have received if he had lived in our day…
    May God help us use emails to encourage, inspire or empathize as these are all part of belonging to Christ’s Body here on earth. We are be a light and salt -never to turn and attack ones who suffer or who teach about suffering.

  5. Your article on caring for people is so true and good. I get a good variety of responses from people on my own cancer journey. If we dare to write something about a cancer battle, people will often quickly offer what I am sure they hope is loving advice, but often is more unhelpful than good.

    They may want to make personal contact and someone on the edge of death really just wants their close family there. Or they may want to bring some ‘specialist person or team to come and minister to the struggling person. This can also be unhelpful.

    I have been referred to various ministries during this health journey, and I have let some try to find a healing breakthrough for the cancer I am battling. But, in the ‘faith’ type communities of Christianity, they are usually convinced that you will be instantly healed, and this is not always the case. Sometimes, they will go through a huge inventory of things you may have done in your life that may have caused this or how you are somehow to fault for not being healed. That may be helpful – but most of us already have searched our hearts and lives to look for answers; mostly, it is more often unhelpful, and disheartening.

    People are well meaning. My husband and I learned that through years of infertility, and no miracle child. So, in some ways it prepared us for our current journey. The infertility one was a lot worse with ‘helpful’ comforters…. but they just want to be able to ‘fix’ you. Their motives are loving, but their methods often produce the opposite of what they hope for.

    Thankfully, through all the roller coaster rides of life’s challenges we somehow become stronger in our understanding of God’s great and unchanging goodness! I know you have too. Keep doing what you do.

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