The moment I spoke I knew my words had not brought the comfort I had intended for they’d been spoken out of an attempt to cheer rather than out of wisdom discerned from the Holy Spirit. In the case of Job, his friends did two things right; they showed up and they said nothing for a week. Sadly, when they did start talking their words brought condemnation and despair rather than the hope Job needed. Certainly they had good intentions, so what characterizes a comforter who brings no comfort at all? Let’s learn from 2 Corinthians 1:
1. A miserable comforter has not been deeply gripped by the gospel. We must beware that, having made a profession of faith, we don’t unwittingly veer towards moralism, relying on our own works rather than Christ’s work on our behalf. When we forget Christ’s mercy towards us, undeserving sinners, our lives become ruled by the law rather than the gospel of grace. This makes us prone to self-righteousness which offers little true comfort to anyone. The gospel reminds us that suffering is not only an inevitable part of our fallenness but is part of being a follower of Jesus Christ.
2. A miserable comforter may not have suffered much herself or, due to her discomfort with suffering, keeps her distance from those in pain. Tim Keller describes this person as one who may know many biblical truths but has never had to grapple with them in in the fiery furnace of personal affliction. He says, “Sometimes, because we don’t know how to relate to someone who is suffering, we might find ourselves simply staying away. We avoid the person in affliction either because we don’t know what to say or do, or out of fear of being drawn into and drowning in the suffering person’s pain. Others, like Job’s friends, make the assumption that the afflicted person somehow brought this on themselves…. The afflicted person challenges us to admit what we would rather deny-that such severe difficulty can come upon anyone, anytime.” Sadly, our avoidance or fear can leave those who are suffering more vulnerable to loneliness, despair, and hopelessness.
3. A miserable comforter fails to see how anything good can come from suffering and can’t bear to see someone they love in pain. This person views suffering through the lens of worldly happiness rather than the gospel lens of future joy. We must beware of trying to rescue a person from the very thing that God has chosen to use to refine him, or offering advice devoid of the gospel.
4. A miserable comforter finds her own faith shaken in the face of difficult circumstances. Trials bring opportunities for God to expose our blind spots to sin and idols we have been worshiping. Miserable comforters need the gospel and those who are best equipped to comfort them are grateful recipients of grace who have often suffered most deeply.
Do you resonate with any of these characteristics? Ask God to help you see where you have had good intentions but have been a miserable comforter. Let’s commit to offer others what will truly bring comfort in their time of need: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Next time we will look at what it means to truly offer a cup of cold water to a suffering saint.