FEW people have ever had to cope with all the problems Job had. Within a short space of time, he was devastated by the loss of his wealth and livelihood, the tragic death of all his children, and finally a very painful disease. Ostracized by friends and relatives, he was urged by his wife to “curse God and die!”—Job 2:9; 19:13, 14.
Job, however, is a unique source of encouragement to anyone who is experiencing similar trials. The positive outcome of his ordeal shows that endurance in the face of adversity makes Jehovah’s heart glad, when we are motivated by genuine godly devotion rather than personal advantage.—Job, chapters 1, 2; Job 42:10-17; Proverbs 27:11.
This Bible account also contains valuable lessons in how to handle problems. It provides striking examples of how someone who is facing trials should—and should not—be counseled. Furthermore, Job’s own experience can help us react in a balanced way when we find ourselves buffeted by adverse circumstances.
A Lesson in Negative Counseling
The expression “Job’s comforter” has become synonymous with a person who, instead of sympathizing at a time of misfortune, rubs salt into the wound. But despite the reputation Job’s three companions have deservedly earned for themselves, we should not assume that their motives were all bad. To some degree they may have wanted to help Job, in line with their mistaken views. Why did they fail? How did they become instruments of Satan, who was determined to break Job’s integrity?
Well, they based practically all their counsel on an incorrect supposition: that suffering comes only to those who sin. In his first speech, Eliphaz said: “Who that is innocent has ever perished? And where have the upright ever been effaced? According to what I have seen, those devising what is hurtful and those sowing trouble will themselves reap it.” (Job 4:7, 8) Eliphaz mistakenly believed that the innocent are immune to calamity. He reasoned that since Job was in severe straits, he must have sinned against God.* Both Bildad and Zophar likewise insisted that Job repent of his sins.—Job 8:5, 6; 11:13-15.
His three companions further disheartened Job by voicing personal ideas rather than godly wisdom. Eliphaz went so far as to say that ‘God has no faith in his servants’ and that it did not really matter to Jehovah whether Job was righteous or not. (Job 4:18; 22:2, 3) It is hard to imagine a more discouraging—or more untruthful—remark than that! Not surprisingly, Jehovah later rebuked Eliphaz and his companions for this blasphemy. “You men have not spoken concerning me what is truthful,” he said. (Job 42:7) But the most damaging assertion was yet to come.
Eliphaz finally went to the extreme of making outright accusations. Since he was unable to extract from Job an admission of guilt, he resorted to fabricating sins that he assumed Job must have committed. “Is not your own badness too much already, and will there be no end to your errors?” Eliphaz asked. “For you seize a pledge from your brothers without cause, and you strip off even the garments of naked people. You do not give the tired one a drink of water, and from the hungry one you hold back bread.” (Job 22:5-7) These accusations were totally unfounded. Jehovah himself had described Job as a man who was “blameless and upright.”—Job 1:8.
How did Job react to these attacks on his personal integrity? Understandably, they made him somewhat bitter and depressed but more determined than ever to prove that these charges were untrue. In fact, he became so engrossed in vindicating himself that, in a way, he began to blame Jehovah for his predicament. (Job 6:4; 9:16-18; 16:11, 12) The real issues involved were overlooked, and the dialogue became a futile debate about whether Job was, or was not, a righteous man. What lessons can Christians learn from this disastrous counseling session?
1. A loving Christian does not assume at the outset that a brother’s problems are of his own making. Harsh criticism of past mistakes—whether real or imagined—can totally discourage a person who is struggling to keep going. The depressed soul needs to be ‘consoled’ rather than berated. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Jehovah wants overseers to be “a hiding place from the wind,” not “troublesome comforters” like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.—Isaiah 32:2; Job 16:2.
2. We should never make an accusation without clear evidence. Hearsay or suppositions—like those of Eliphaz—are not a sound basis for giving reproof. If an elder, for example, makes a faulty accusation, he could well lose credibility and cause emotional stress. How did Job feel about having to listen to such misguided counsel? He gave vent to his anguish with the ironic exclamation: “O how much help you have been to one without power!” (Job 26:2) A concerned overseer will “straighten up the hands that hang down,” not make the problem worse.—Hebrews 12:12.
3. Counsel should be based on God’s Word, not on personal ideas. The arguments of Job’s companions were both incorrect and destructive. Instead of drawing Job closer to Jehovah, they led him to think there was a barrier separating him from his heavenly Father. (Job 19:2, 6, 8) Skillful use of the Bible, on the other hand, can set things straight, invigorate others, and offer real comfort.—Luke 24:32; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2.
While the book of Job helps Christians to identify certain pitfalls, it also provides a useful lesson in how to give effective counsel.
How to Give Counsel
Elihu’s counsel was completely different from that of Job’s three companions, both in content and in the way Elihu dealt with Job. He used Job’s name and spoke to him as a friend, not as Job’s judge. “Now, however, O Job, please hear my words, and to all my speaking do give ear. Look! I am to the true God just what you are; from the clay I was shaped, I too.” (Job 33:1, 6) Elihu was also quick to commend Job for his upright course. “I have taken delight in your righteousness,” he reassured Job. (Job 33:32) Apart from this kindly manner of counseling, Elihu was successful for other reasons.
Having waited patiently until the others had finished speaking, Elihu was better able to grasp the issues before offering counsel. Granted that Job was a righteous man, would Jehovah punish him? “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!” Elihu exclaimed. “He will not take away his eyes from anyone righteous.”—Job 34:10; 36:7.
Was the righteousness of Job really the main issue? Elihu drew Job’s attention to an unbalanced viewpoint. “You have said, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s,’” he explained. “Look up to heaven and see, and behold the clouds, that they are indeed higher than you.” (Job 35:2, 5) Just as the clouds are much higher than we are, so Jehovah’s ways are higher than our ways. We are not in a position to judge the way he does things. “Therefore let men fear him. He does not regard any who are wise in their own heart,” Elihu concluded.—Job 37:24; Isaiah 55:9.
Elihu’s sound counsel prepared the way for Job to receive additional instruction from Jehovah himself. In fact, there is a striking parallel between Elihu’s review of “the wonderful works of God,” in Job chapter 37, and Jehovah’s own words to Job, recorded in Job chapters 38 to 41. Evidently, Elihu saw matters from Jehovah’s viewpoint. (Job 37:14) How can Christians imitate Elihu’s fine example?
Like Elihu, overseers in particular want to be empathetic and kindly, remembering that they too are imperfect. They do well to listen carefully in order to get the facts and understand the issues before giving counsel. (Proverbs 18:13) Moreover, by using the Bible and Scriptural publications, they can make sure that Jehovah’s viewpoint prevails.—Romans 3:4.
Apart from providing these practical lessons for elders, the book of Job teaches us how to face problems in a balanced way.
How Not to React to Adverse Circumstances
Devastated by his suffering and frustrated by his false comforters, Job became embittered and depressed. “Let the day perish on which I came to be born . . . My soul certainly feels a loathing toward my life,” he groaned. (Job 3:3; 10:1) Unaware that Satan was the culprit, he assumed that God was causing his calamities. It seemed so unjust that he—a righteous man—should suffer. (Job 23:10, 11; 27:2; 30:20, 21) This attitude blinded Job to other considerations and led him to criticize God’s dealings with mankind. Jehovah asked: “Will you invalidate my justice? Will you pronounce me wicked in order that you may be in the right?”—Job 40:8.
Perhaps our immediate reaction when confronted with adversity is to feel victimized, as Job apparently did. The common response is to ask, ‘Why me? Why should others—who are much worse than I am—enjoy a life relatively free from problems?’ These are negative thoughts that we can counteract by meditating on God’s Word.
Unlike Job, we are in a position to comprehend the greater issues involved. We know that Satan “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) As the book of Job reveals, the Devil would delight to break our integrity by causing us problems. He is bent on proving his claim that we are only fair-weather Witnesses of Jehovah. (Job 1:9-11; 2:3-5) Will we have the courage to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty and thus prove the Devil a liar?
The example of Jesus, and countless other faithful servants of Jehovah, shows that some form of suffering is almost inevitable in this system of things. Jesus said that his disciples must be willing to ‘pick up their torture stake’ if they wish to follow him. (Luke 9:23) Our personal “torture stake” might be one or more of the adversities that Job endured—ill health, the death of loved ones, depression, economic hardship, or opposition from unbelievers. Whatever type of problem we may be facing, there is a positive side. We can view our circumstance as an opportunity to demonstrate our endurance and unwavering allegiance to Jehovah.—James 1:2, 3.
That was the way Jesus’ apostles reacted. Soon after Pentecost they were flogged for preaching about Jesus. Rather than being discouraged, they went on their way “rejoicing.” They were joyful, not because of the suffering itself, but because “they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his [Christ’s] name.”—Acts 5:40, 41.
Of course, not all our difficulties befall us as a result of serving Jehovah. Our problems may be self-inflicted—at least to a certain extent. Or perhaps, through no fault of our own, the problem has affected our spiritual balance. Whatever the case, a humble attitude like that of Job will enable us to discern where mistakes have been made. Job admitted to Jehovah: “I talked, but I was not understanding.” (Job 42:3) The one who recognizes his errors in this way is much more likely to avoid similar difficulties in the future. As the proverb says, “shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself.”—Proverbs 22:3.
Most important, the book of Job reminds us that our problems will not last forever. The Bible says: “We pronounce happy those who have endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.” (James 5:11) We can be sure that Jehovah will likewise reward the faithfulness of his servants today.
We also look forward to the time when problems of every kind—“the former things”—have passed away. (Revelation 21:4) Until that day dawns, the book of Job serves as an invaluable guide that can help us to handle problems with wisdom and fortitude.
While the Bible states that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap,” this does not mean that a person’s suffering must be divine retribution. (Galatians 6:7) In this world dominated by Satan, the righteous often face more problems than the wicked do. (1 John 5:19) “You will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my name,” Jesus told his disciples. (Matthew 10:22) Sickness and other types of misfortune can befall any of God’s faithful servants.—Psalm 41:3; 73:3-5; Philippians 2:25-27.
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“Behold the clouds, that they are indeed higher than you.” Elihu thus helped Job understand that God’s ways are higher than man’s ways