When our friend opens up to us about their suffering, although we don’t intend to, we risk making their suffering worse. We try our hardest to listen, but their experience may not fit with our preconceived ideas about how life goes or how people should respond.
Among the hurtful things we might say: deliver a “blessing.” That’s what Job’s friend Eliphaz offers him: “See how happy is the man whom God reproves; Do not reject the discipline of the Almighty” (Job 5:17). Derived from his doctrine of God’s providential control over all of life (v. 18) and leading to his premature offers of hope (vv. 19-26), Eliphaz must surely believe he’s on solid ground. He appeals to the common wisdom tradition that God our Father teaches us wisdom through our suffering. His beatitude also warns Job to back off his protest against God’s unfairness.
God may indeed use suffering to teach us many lessons through our suffering–after the fact. When our friend goes through deep waters, however, we need to say, “I don’t know why you have to go through this, either, but I’ll walk with you through it.” Where a beatitude for suffering will probably leave our friend feeling empty, or rejected, demonstrating our care in word and deed provides the needed relief and support our friend needs. If we were the one who suffers, isn’t that what we’d want?
Can you think of a time when a friend or loved one, in a effort to be helpful, said something inadvertently hurtful? Something supportive ?