by Eugene Wilson
RECENTLY, I HAD SEVERAL conversations that occurred within just a few hours of each other in which people were experiencing great trouble. One was about trouble with teenage children. One was trouble in a marriage that is disintegrating. One involved health trouble with a small child. Another was trouble with finances. And yet another was trouble in overcoming mental and emotional abuse.
When thinking of the difficulties people face, I am often reminded of Daniel 7:25: “He shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”
Although there are various viewpoints regarding this verse, most agree that we have an enemy that wants to destroy us. One of the tactics of this enemy is to wear us down, to cause us to experience exhaustion. How does Satan seek to exhaust us? Some have suggested that perhaps one of the ways is by changing the seasons. The verse says, “He shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws.” Seasons follow order-winter, spring, summer, and fall. By messing up the order-winter, summer, winter, summer-a person would experience exhaustion. Can you imagine it? No refreshing rain or a season of harvest. Instead, the seasons of deadness and dryness would dominate.
Such perspective may be an inaccurate view of the Scripture. It is not, however, inaccurate in describing the lifecycle of some people. Some are living in a constant revolving of winter and summer. It has been a long time since some have experienced either a refreshing rainfall or a season of harvest. Some are experiencing season after season of great struggle.
What do you say to such a person?
Do you suggest they must be doing something wrong? Do you tell them to praise God and that things will change? Do you suggest they must pray more? Do you point out areas in their life in which they have made bad decisions and that they are reaping what they have sown?
Regrettably, people who experience times of great difficulty are often bombarded with the worst advice. Well-intentioned people often say unwise things. Unfortunately, fake wisdom causes additional wounds to the person who is already hurting.
Job’s friends were such people. They were not entirely bad, though. They did at least three things right. First, they came to Job when he was suffering. Second, they expressed great empathy, weeping aloud, tearing their robes, and sprinkling dust on their heads. (See Job 2: 12.) Third, they spent time with him-they were with him for seven days before offering advice. (See Job 2: 13.)
However, once they started giving advice, they got it all wrong. They believed Job was suffering because of something he had done wrong. So, they encouraged Job to repent so God would bless him again.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., in his article “Reductionist Justice: Where Job’s friends went wrong about suffering,” suggests that Job’s friends got it wrong when “they reduced all evil to ‘retributive suffering’ [ emphasis mine], which is caused by sin and disobedience to God.” But, as Kaiser notes, “There are seven other types of suffering mentioned in the Bible.” The seven types of suffering are (1) educational or disciplinary suffering, (2) vicarious suffering, (3) empathetic suffering, (4) evidential or testimonial suffering, (5) doxological suffering, (6) revelational suffering, and (7) apocalyptic or eschatological suffering.
God, as the text reveals, was upset with Job’s friends and rebuked all three of them. Why? Because they misrepresented Him completely. They offered advice based on their perspective, one that was rooted in their own experience. Furthermore, they believed that suffering was a sign of God’s displeasure. Interestingly, Job embraced the same theology prior to his trial. His experience, however, radically changed his view.
Much can be learned from Job and his friends. Our physical presence can offer great value to someone experiencing pain, as can our expressions of empathy. Our silence, while being close by their side, can offer great comfort to those who are hurting. However, we should not assume that because a person is going through hard times that they did something wrong, that God’s judgment has come to their house, or that if they would only do what is right things would change.
The greatest encouragement we can give people is to turn their focus to God. Kaiser says, “Our decision must be to follow God and trust His justice, wisdom, and goodness whether we are in the throes of suffering or enjoying good health and blessing. Such a decision would surely cut the ground out from under Satan in the spiritual warfare of our day and age.”
Kaiser is right; regardless what season we are experiencing or helping others walk through, we must follow God and trust Him wholly. In that, we shall find rest in seasons of weariness.
The Pentecostals of Texas