Job 16:1-2 – I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.
Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz: some choice names expecting parents may consider. They’re biblical after all. Straight out of some of the most beautiful and profound poetry ever.
These guys had a lot of good things to say. They said some theologically accurate things to Job. “Sin causes suffering.” “People who are suffering are sinners.” “You are suffering because you’ve sinned.” All of these statements are true on many occasions; some are true on all occasions. They were right in the things they said. But they were wrong in how they said them.
A theology of sin is absolutely vital if someone has any real hope of spiritual growth. But a theology of sin isn’t the only thing a hurting person needs. They need truth from every angle and every possibly perspective. And sometimes that truth isn’t propositional; it’s personal. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Everything Jesus said was absolutely, perfectly true. But he was also appropriate, helpful, thoughtful, tactful, sympathetic, and empathetic. He said the right thing in the right way at the right time.
One can be theologically correct, as straight as a plumb line and as precise as a paring knife, and still be wrong. When the right thing is said at the wrong time or in the wrong way, it can be as hurtful as it is correct. Like Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). The word has to fit; it needs to be said in the right way and at the right time.
When a person has been bombasted by the rough and tumble of life in a cursed world, they not only need to understand sin, they need to see God properly as well. There is no doubt about it. But they first need to be able to see. The soul has recently been concussed. A concussed soul doesn’t need to be theologically correct that very moment; it needs to be restored. It can’t see clearly because it can’t see at all. It needs love, somebody to listen carefully and then say something that fits. A discussion on Hamartiology or the intricacies of Theology Proper are probably a ways down the road.
So when you are trying to encourage somebody who has recently gone through some kind of trauma (like, say, the death of all of your children, the loss every penny, and your wife turning atheist), be careful not to say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Be careful not to enhance misery in your attempt to comfort. Be careful not to be a Bildad, a Zophar, or an Eliphaz. Listen carefully. Pray passionately. Touch appropriately. And then, at the right time, and in the right way, you can be a tool in the hand of God to provide real comfort.