Untrained and/or inexperienced counselors use several strategies to keep sufferers at a distance. They need to do this to remain “safe” from the pain engendered by what they hear. When they hear of tragedy, they rush to help, but as soon as they get close to the person in desperation, they can feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and helpless.
Unaware of what the sufferer needs, or maybe very aware, the counselor feels incapable of providing the needed empathy. Instead of listening or saying, “Tell me more,” they make pronouncements, ask for, or provide, information, offer advice, or give their insight. That effectively stops the conversation by changing the subject, or by refocusing the discussion on the would-be counselor.
Eliphaz uses that common strategy to keep Job’s anguish at bay. “See, you have strengthened many,” he says in response to Job wanting to die (4:3 Jewish Publication Society tr. throughout). “You have braced knees that gave way (v. 4b).” Eliphaz deflects Job’s present anguish by reminding him of his former role as a comforter of others in distress. “But now that it overtakes you, it is too much; it reaches you and you are unnerved” (v. 5). Eliphaz has turned the conversation away from Job’s hurt to Job’s seeming inconsistency, if not hypocrisy. He then injects a note of premature hope into the conversation (v. 6) leading to the traditional answer that innocent people never perish (v. 7) and his observation of the destruction of the wicked (v. 8). Notice how easily he slips from Job’s need for understanding to his need to expound on what he knows. Eliphaz has just stolen Job’s conversation. We do this all the time.
Have you asked a friend for understanding, then had the conversation stolen? Have you started to respond to a loved-one in distress, but subtly turned the focus on you?