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How to Speak in Times of Suffering | A Sermon from Job

This is the second sermon in a five-part series on the book of Job. Join the online discussion at the Grace Learning Center. This sermon looks at the big portion of Job (chapter 3-31) as his “friends” attack him and accuse him of being in sin. From this negative example we explore practical ways to bring comfort to those who are suffering.

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What do you say when you encounter someone who is truly suffering? That’s the big question we want to tackle today as we come to our second sermon in this 5-part series through the book of Job.

Let’s be honest. Suffering and pain makes us uncomfortable. Well, maybe it doesn’t for you, but it really freaks me out. I need to confess right now. I do not do well in hospitals. As soon as I walk into a hospital room I start getting light headed. Yeah, that’s a really great quality for a pastor. I know.

I want to start off with a little exercise of multiple choice. Let’s say you find out that your friend has cancer. What do you do:

  1. Take over a hot dish and avoid the topic,
  2. Tell her it is the result of unconfessed sin and offer to hear her confession,
  3. Assure him that it is all part of God’s plan,
  4. Remind her that it could be a lot worse and then proceed to dump all your garbage on her.
  5. Sit, hold hands, listen, pray.

Another point of confession. I have done all of these at one point or another in my life. Not proud.

Here’s where I want to go today. This is our road map for the sermon:

  1. Look at the Text
  2. Learn how to speak TO suffering
  3. Learn how to speak IN suffering

First, here is my drawing that gives the big picture of Job. You can see that it is broken up into four basic parts. Chapters 1-2; Chapters 3-31; chapters 32-37; and chapters 38-42.

Last week we looked at chapters 1-2. This was the opening scene where Job is accused of loving God only because God protects Job and gives him a nice life. God allows the Satan to pull the rug out from under Job and he loses everything.

Here’s the key point. We know that Job has done nothing wrong. He is truly a righteous man, and he is now suffering terribly.

This week we look at the second section. The texts we read were more of a placeholder that represents this big section from chapters 3-31. We thought that might take a little long to read. J

Let me summarize. Job has a conversation with three men: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

They are each operating under Proverb’s wisdom formula. Do you remember that from last week? Many people, even today, distort the teachings of Proverbs and Deuteronomy, and turn them into a hard and fast law.

Do good, get good.

Do bad, get bad.

For twenty eight chapters these friends try to convince Job that the reason he is suffering is because there is sin in his life.

Here are some samples of what they said.

Eliphaz said,

 Is not your fear of God your confidence,

and the integrity of your ways your hope?

…In other words, Job I’m only telling you what you already know…

As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.

Then Bildad jumps in,

Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your children sinned against him, he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place.

Then Zophar adds fuel to the fire,

For you say, ‘My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God’s sight.’ But O that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many-sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.

I mean, these guys are brutal.

So, we want to learn how to speak to someone who’s suffering.

The first thing to know is…DON’T SPEAK LIKE JOB’S FRIENDS.

I ran a social media experiment over the past couple weeks. I posted this on my blog, which pushes out to Facebook. I asked people to tell me the worst things people have said to them when they were in times of suffering.

Here are some of the responses:

  • After I miscarried the second time: “It’s ok, you didn’t need another baby.”
  • “Just be glad it isn’t (insert someone else’s pain)” implying that pain/suffering is a competition… “it can’t be as bad as when I lost xxx.”
  • when her husband died, “Oh, my dear, I know how you feel. I lost my dog           last week.”
  • Just days after my mother committed suicide, a person said to me that my mother had zero chance to be with our Lord in heaven.

Now here are the two most common responses:

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • This is part of God’s plan

Can I give you some pastoral advice. DON’T SAY THESE THINGS! THEY HURT.

Kristina Hill sent this to me:

give steve a tumor

Panel 1: The woman says to the man in the hospital bed, “This is all according to God’s plan.”

Panel 2: God in front of his to do list. 1. Make Universe. 2. Give Steve a Tumor. Hmmm…

Let that soak in a moment.

What kind of God is this?

I would like to suggest that there is a big difference between speaking about God’s plan and God’s Promise. I’m going to resist launching into a big theological sermon about this. I’ll keep it simple. I don’t believe God makes everything happen. God creates life, and life is a dynamic process of choices that lead to natural consequences. God has promised to be with us and work through all our consequences and ultimately redeem it.

I’ll just leave it at that and move on, because I want this to be a really practical sermon.

So, how should we speak to people who are suffering?

I was so encouraged by how many people jumped in and contributed to this sermon process. Two people each sent me the same article, and it is so good I want to share it with you.

The article says:

la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-001Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. (kvetching means to complain)

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

That is good advice.

Lindsay sent me this picture.

the same stuff

Classic.

A couple other people pointed me to this resource, and I will post it in the Grace Learning Center discussion group.

60 Creative Ways to love a friend in crisis by Michele Cushatt

Now I want to end with encouragement for how to speak when you are the one suffering.

Say whatever you want. You’re in the center of the rings.

Job did.

He’s not as optimistic as he was last week.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;  I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of  my soul.

[sldie]

It is all one; therefore I say, he destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.

We are going to learn in the weeks to come that what God wants from us is our authentic self. Period.

So, thank you to all who helped with this sermon. Let’s pray that God will give us the grace to speak well in times of suffering.

Amen.

 

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