Her words stung. No, they cut. The cut was deep, probably because the part of my heart she tore at was already raw.
I was about 6 weeks postpartum with my first child. My mommy-heart was breaking at the thought of going back to work and missing a single moment with my precious baby. While I had not crossed over into postpartum depression, there had been some very dark days on the tail of what had been a tumultuous pregnancy.
When I poured out my grief and insecurities, I expected some affirmation that my feelings were normal and reassurance that I was a good mom, even if I was a working one. Instead, my friend doubled down on my insecurities — telling me that she had decided to stay home because she loved her children more than money and maybe this was God telling me to do the same. In the words of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, “While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”
I always assumed from my memories of Job that his friends gave him bad advice. You may remember from past posts that I read through my Bible cover to cover and am on my second trek this way. The first time through took me three-ish years (Give me grace— there were newborns and lots of missing sleep in there which is probably why I don’t exactly remember how long it took). Suffice to say — it has been a while since I really looked at Job. Before that, I’m not sure I read Job, merely remembered sermons I heard in childhood.
As I began to read, I started to consider if my recollections were correct. Job’s three friends arrive in Chapter 2, after he has lost wealth, children, and health. In the beginning, they do well. For seven complete days, they sit with him. They don’t question, or encourage, or preach. They sit on the ground with Job as he grieves “for they saw that his grief was very great.” Note: sometimes just being with someone in grief is more useful, meaningful, and helpful than anything we can say. His friends listen in Chapter 3 as Job delivers his first speech/lament.
Then Eliphaz answers, and as I read, I thought to myself more than once, “Well, he’s not wrong.” Eliphaz makes some great general observations. Here are some that caught my attention:
- “Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” – 4:8b
- “Can a mortal be more righteous than God?” – 4:17a
- “For wrath kills a foolish man, and envy slays a simple one.” 5:2
- “[God] does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number” 5:9
- “He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.”
The passage from Eliphaz that really caught my attention was this:
“Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects;Job 5:17-18
Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.
For He bruises, but He binds up;
He wounds, but His hands make whole.
This is such a rich, truthful passage, but not helpful to Job at all. We should be thankful for God’s discipline. As a prosecutor, I often talk to family members who are having a hard time holding someone they love accountable for hurtful, criminal actions. I often remind them that if a small child was reaching for a hot stove eye, we would not hesitate to smack the child’s hand. It is a loving action, knowing that the pain of discipline is much less than the painful consequence of the child’s continued act. In the same way, God’s discipline saves us from worse pain.
When I have to discipline my child, it breaks my heart to see him cry. I am quick to scoop him into my arms and reassure him that I do love him so. God, our loving Father, scoops us up to tend to the wounds of discipline.
This passage is incredibly helpful in understanding God our Father, but it was not helpful for Job. I could almost feel the indignation Job must have felt as I read those words. As we learned last week in Job 1, he was a good man who did not deserve the trouble he received. Losing everything was not an earned consequence or justified retribution. It wasn’t a lesson to teach him.
It took longer to heal from my friend’s words than the emotions I was processing. I do not think she was malicious in what she said. Her thoughts were the truth she had experienced. We must be careful, however, not to apply truths we needed for ourselves to someone else’s situation.
Just because something is true does not make it helpful. On the other hand, just because something is not helpful does not make it not true. I want to be very clear: there are universal truths. Eliphaz’s words to Job were true even though they wounded more than healed him. Sometimes the things people tell us will hurt as they heal. Not liking what someone tells you is not the measure of its truth.
Godly Goodly Counsel
How can we give good counsel? Speaking the truth in love is an easy answer, but what does it mean? I wracked my brain and search engine for an appropriate answer before turning to Strong’s Concordance and looking at all the times the word counsel is used in scripture. There are references to good counsel, bad counsel, God’s counsel, and ignored counsel, but little that molded into counsel for me to give on giving counsel.
But I noticed something unexpected. The Hebrew word for counsel is frequently translated purpose.
In the big picture, our purposes are all the same: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Catechism); however, on an individual level, my purpose is not the same as the purpose of the person I am counseling. Good counsel must align with both our overarching and individual purposes. It must first be true and second be fitting. Giving good counsel comes from a place of knowing someone well and caring about that person’s heart.
Do not feel compelled to have an answer. Humans tend to say really dumb things when they feel like they have to say something but don’t know what to say. So looking back at Job’s friends: consider silence.