As a pastoral counselor in training, I said something to a psychiatric hospital patient that appalled my supervisor. He asked me in our group supervision, why I said such a thing. My answer sounded hollow even to me. “Now, when a psychiatrist says something to a patient,” the director of the program said, “he takes responsibility for what that does to the patient.”
That experience taught me a very important lesson: in comforting a suffering person, we don’t just say anything off the top of our head. We carefully consider the impact of our words. That is, we weigh the effect our words could have on the other person. That person, in a world of hurt, is particularly vulnerable. We calculate our words to deliver the maximum potential for healing. We speak with gentleness, kindness, and consideration for the other person.
If Job’s friends had only spoken that way! Job’s first response to Eliphaz’s words of revelation, advice, and warning in Chapters 4-5, show exasperation. “If my anguish were weighed,” he says, “my full calamity laid on the scales, it would be heavier than the sands of the sea” (6:1-2a). Job doesn’t answer Eliphaz directly, but tries to show him how greatly he suffers–too great for his friend’s pat theological answers.
Eliphaz (and the others) spoke out of their reservoir of wisdom teaching, but to Job in the immediate wake of personal disaster after disaster, their words rang hollow. Job feels no empathy.
Have you spoken to your hurting friend or loved one too soon, without considering the impact you words could have? Have you felt the sting of feeling your suffering minimized by well-meaning, but inconsiderate friends?