Job’s story is famous for its treatment of the universal themes of personal suffering, enduring hope, and God’s sovereignty. Job suffered tremendously and endured his trials with patience. However, while he was going through his darkest days, three of his friends arrived to “comfort him” (Job 2:11). They turned out to be “miserable comforters,” in Job’s estimation (Job 16:2).
Job’s would-be comforters offered all sorts of possibilities for why Job was going through such misery, but, adding insult to injury, they focused on the theory that Job must have unconfessed sin in his life and that God was punishing him (Job 11:14–15; 22:4–7). Knowing his conscience was clear, Job grew weary of their accusations and blurted out, “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you” (Job 16:2).
The words of Job’s three friends highlight the tendency in all of us to rush to conclusions. Their theology reflected serious errors, as they insisted that the only reason Job would experience such catastrophes is if he had done wrong (Job 4:7–8; 22:5). Unfortunately, that same idea has crept into Christianity under the umbrella of the prosperity gospel and the Word of Faith movement. Job’s “miserable comforters” are echoed in the modern teaching that God rewards the righteous if they believe hard enough, but those with weaker faith or secret sin will reap calamities. The conclusion of such thinking is that, if someone suffers a string of disasters, contracts a terminal illness, or has a crippling disease, he or she must not be doing something right.
The Bible does say that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:8; James 3:18) and that God blesses the righteous (Psalm 5:12; 32:10). But the blessing given to the righteous does not always (or usually) take material form. If it did, we would have no way to explain the anguish and deprivation suffered by the apostles, martyrs, or faithful Christians around the world (Hebrews 11:35–40). God’s blessing on the righteous is often spiritual, as we are seated “in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). By the same token, adversity and calamity in this world are not always a sign of God’s displeasure. To equate disaster with God’s curse is to behave like Job’s “miserable comforters.”
Instead of following the example of Job’s friends, we can truly comfort those who are suffering by assuring them that God knows what they are going through and He cares about them (Psalm 34:18). We can remind them that, as painful as their situation is, God promises to use it for good in their lives if they love Him and trust Him with it (Romans 8:28). Trying to assign blame during a time of loss can turn us into “miserable comforters.” Sometimes the greatest comfort we can give a hurting friend is our quiet presence. Sometimes, as Job’s friends should have learned, the best thing to say is nothing at all.