Read Job 11:13-18
13 “If only you would prepare your heart
and lift up your hands to him in prayer!
14 Get rid of your sins,
and leave all iniquity behind you.
15 Then your face will brighten with innocence.
You will be strong and free of fear.
16 You will forget your misery;
it will be like water flowing away.
17 Your life will be brighter than the noonday.
Even darkness will be as bright as morning.
18 Having hope will give you courage.
You will be protected and will rest in safety. (NLT)
Job’s friends were not really friendly; Job’s comforters offered little comfort. Job is sitting on his desolate ash heap lamenting his misfortune and crying out to God for reassurance. His friends offer him pious platitudes. In essence, they reckon his suffering is his fault. If he cleans up his act then all will be well.
There may be a shred of truth in this: going our own way may mean we bring some pain on ourselves. But very often our problem with suffering arises out of it coming to us whether we reckon we deserve it or not. Bad people may get off lightly in life whereas good people cop setbacks all the time. Life is not fair.
Job’s companions want life to be neatly packaged into categories of cause and effect. They want an answer to each and every problem, an explanation for each and every pain. That might make them feel better, living in a logically structured universe, but it makes Job feel worse. Wrong answers are worse than no answers at all.
If we are suffering we don’t need clichés or simplistic responses. If we are helping those who are suffering there is no obligation on us to provide clear answers. Recall that Job’s comforters were a wonderful and respectful comfort to him—till they opened their mouths.
And recall also that Job didn’t so much want an answer to the problem of suffering but an assurance that God was still God. His friends couldn’t give him an answer, and nor did God. Job was satisfied because he wanted assurance rather than answers.