Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon on Psalm 63:3 (“Your steadfast love is better than life”) paraphrased God’s posture toward the psalmist: “If you want my mercy, then let me gain the victory over you; if you want my life, than let me hate and destroy that which is evil in you; if you want my goodness, then let me take your life.” These words lay before the saint a radical paradigm shift to make. For good to come, the child of God must find his way to God’s perspective – even in the midst of suffering. The final lesson on counseling we can glean from Job concerns our attitude toward God in the midst of suffering. Over the course of the narrative, Job’s attitude toward God undergoes dynamic change, from an initial refusal to blame God (Job 1:22) to a growing suspicion of God’s injustice (Job 9:22b), culminating with a final capitulation in humble awe (Job 40:4). Though Job’s character evolves, a recurring theme in the book is the vital importance of correct thinking about God in the midst of suffering, all which lead us to our final principle on counseling from Job:
Principle #3: Good Counselors Encourage Right Thinking about God in the Midst of Suffering
Although the conversation between Job and his friends constitutes the vast majority of the book, one must consider the fallibility of each character’s verbal testimony. The development of the book points to the final reply by God as the infallible climax of the story, the testimony that judges all that has been previously said.
With this truth in mind, Job’s initial response to the loss of his children and all he possessed is instructive. Immediately after the occurrence of the tragedy, Job assumes a posture of humble shame and worships God (Job 1:20). In the midst of his loss, the central importance of his relationship with God is not forgotten.
Although misconstruing the nature and cause of Job’s suffering, Job’s friends nonetheless emphasize the important theme of the centrality of God. Eliphaz calls Job to listen to Eliphaz’ call for Job’s repentance toward God and “apply it to yourself” (Job 5:27, NIV). Later, Bildad describes the destiny of the disobedient as “the place of him who does not know God” (Job 18:21). In addition, Elihu describes the potential future for a repentant Job as one in which he will find acceptance with God and “see His face with joy” (Job 33:26).
Though one can appreciate the emphasis on God that Job and his friends maintain, they all fall short of a true depiction of God’s character. Moreover, after the presentation of the friends, Job is no nearer a resolution of his anguish toward God.
A principal reason for their common misapprehension has been detailed earlier: the belief in the unflinching, retributive character of God. Though all value God’s centrality, they attempt to fit general principles by which God acts into a universally applicable rule that manifests itself with “mathematical” certainty.
Because the testimony of Job and his friends have failed to accurately describe God and his ways, God himself must step in as the final voice in this interchange. In chapters 38 through 41, God challenges Job to consider God’s awesome power and wisdom in creation. Although not dismissive of Job, God nonetheless describes Job’s disputation with him as “words without knowledge” (Job 38:2). Effectively, God then proves Job’s inadequacy to question God’s character in light of Job’s suffering. Job’s response to God’s “dismissal” of him provides great insight into the stark change in his attitude toward God. Whereas Job had only heard about God in the past, now his “eyes see” God (Job 42:5b).
Ironically, none of Job’s direct questions concerning suffering have been answered with respect to God. His only solace is that God himself has revealed himself directly to Job in the midst of his suffering. While the argumentation of his friends failed to provide resolution, God’s revelation of himself initiates Job’s repentance of his judgmental attitude toward God.
This material as presented in this section has provided great help to me in learning to counsel others, particularly with respect to the need of cultivating right thinking about God in the midst of suffering. I have drawn three specific lessons. First, it is crucial for a counselor to help maintain a God-centered focus when helping a suffering person. One can legitimately draw application from the focus on God that Job and his friends demonstrate. In addition, a counselor must encourage seeking the presence of God within the suffering experience. As shown above, what caused the greatest change in Job’s outlook was the personal revelation of God. Though Job’s friends’ commentary was profuse, they failed to answer his fundamental questions concerning God. This observation naturally leads to the conclusion that words from a counselor cannot be detached from seeking the comforting presence of God’s Spirit as one ministers to a hurting person.
Finally, a principal objective in counseling should be encouragement of the worship of God. Like figurative “bookends,” Job’s worship of God in 1:20 and 42:1-6 provides a helpful summation to Job’s plight. Interestingly, the emphasis in Job’s worship in 42:1-6 is not on confession of his sins that caused his suffering. The emphasis is on Job’s repentance of wrong thinking about God and himself.
Because the tendency in the suffering is to question what God has allowed, part of what a good counselor needs to accomplish in the life of the suffering person is to lovingly shift the direction of his thinking in a God-ward direction.
The book of Job provides us with very clear and helpful lessons for the counseling of others. From refraining from simplistic diagnoses of problems to embracing right thinking about God, good counseling practices can enable those involved in counseling to know God and themselves better in the midst of very difficult circumstances. A study of the book of Job is to be commended as a truly helpful project for those who aspire to encourage and provide direction for those who are hurting.