How To Give Bad Advice To Suffering People

I wish that everyone that gives unsolicited advice to those who are suffering, especially chronically, would be required to first read Job and at least a short exposition of it. That would remove so much heartache from so many sufferers. They would see what well meaning but bad acting friends are. Most of all, they would see God’s rebuke of Job’s “friends”. I believe they really were friends, but as time went on, they acted less and less like friends, and more like self-righteous people who want to prove themselves right.

Here is an excellent quote from What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About:

Job also demonstrates the damage that can be done to others, especially to those who are suffering, when “comforters” or “counselors” presume to analyze a situation and then deliver dogmatic pronouncements about what God is doing and what his purposes involve. Job 28 shows that there are situations in life where human finitude makes it impossible to understand the works and ways of God and that the proper course in such situations is to fear God and turn from evil (Job 28:28; cf. Eccl. 12:13). After Eliphaz counseled Job to turn from his sin and to ask God for forgiveness, Job observed how unhelpful such directives were because he did not know anything to confess. In chapter 6, he observed that what a suffering person needs in such circumstances is kindness from his friend rather than theological advice and analysis which, in Job’s case, only intensified his pain. Job himself asserted those who lack such care have forsaken “the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14), and Yahweh later affirmed how his anger burned against the three whose words were filled with foolishness (42:7). The book of Job, therefore, clearly warns against the arrogance of assuming that our theological categories constitute a comprehensive statement about how God works.

–Edward M. Curtis

One thing I noticed in this post The Sad Christian, is that the commenters who had the least experience with depression, especially the chronic kind, were somehow the ones who gave the most advice. The ones who are going through the same thing are ones who don’t give advice. They tell him they [truly] know what he’s going through, or that they’ll pray for him, as opposed to the platitudes, advice that he already knew about ten years ago, advice he’s already heard 25 times, etc. Books are written on that, and I could write a lot more, but I’ll leave it at that. If you want to look at the comments, you can see what I mean.

One comment I like there is, “So the question becomes how our faith helps us endure depression rather [than] how our faith stops us from being depressed.” He’s commenting on how the author of the post, who’s tried nearly everything, still has bouts of deep depression. Some people don’t believe this can happen to a solid Christian, but believe me, it does, as do all kinds of illnesses.

Most people really do care and really do mean well. But they should know better. And if you’re one of those people, now you do.

Also see:
What IS the Book of Job About? | Scripture Zealot blog
What Not to Say to Those Who are Suffering | CCEF

4 Responses to “How To Give Bad Advice To Suffering People”


  1. 1 Eric

    Great post, Jeff. I really like that comment too: that “our faith helps us endure depression rather [than] how our faith stops us from being depressed.” It’s been a chronic battle for me. I’ve been on an anti-depressant medication on a regular basis now for over 6 months and quite a bit of the painful inner thoughts has stopped or lessened, which makes me think that part of it, at least, might be brain chemistry. When pastors talk about the “dark night of the soul,” I always think, how about the dark DECADES of the soul. I think some people (and Job’s friends) give their opinions because they’re not comfortable with the tension of unexplained suffering with a good God. Enough rambling from me. Have a good weekend. Eric

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    “I think some people (and Job’s friends) give their opinions because they’re not comfortable with the tension of unexplained suffering with a good God.”

    Well, that was a great ramble. You should have kept going. That’s something that was in my subconscious that I kind of wanted to write, but I couldn’t remember it. Or maybe that’s something I would have written if I would have kept going, which would have turned into a huge ramble for me. Anyway, I think that’s exactly part of what’s going on many times.

    One thing I would have written is that as someone suffers more and more, and longer and longer, others may see it as more unbelievable–and try to come up with a reason for it–or more scary, or both.
    Jeff

  3. 3 Thomas Provost

    Great post Jeff. I love the book of Job and agree with you 100%. People need to take the time to read and understand The Book of Job. They need to be very careful not to take the position of his friends and try to find reasons why Job was suffering. Like your quote said, we as sinners simply cannot understand the ways of God.
    I love the quote: “So the question becomes how our faith helps us endure depression rather [than] how our faith stops us from being depressed.” Amen to that.

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks Tom. I wish I could have been in on your Bible study on it. The NIVAC commentary I read was fantastic for me. Which reminds me, I’m going to add a couple of Also See links to this post that might be helpful for some.
    Jeff

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