• 2 October 2023

Chapter 4 – The Best Medicine

The book of Job shows how not to help others who are suffering. Job’s comforters get so many things wrong. They try and take control. But if the storm is raging, only God can calm the storm. Our role is not to take hold of the tiller and try to steer the boat, but to be in the boat with our friend.

Everyone feels pain and suffering in a different fashion, which means it’s dangerous to use generalities (as Job’s friends do). God is a personal God who deals with His children in equal but individual ways. God has no one-size-fits-all. Sometimes all that can be done is to be quiet and listen.

We tend to shy away from people in suffering because we feel awkward and embarrassed, but actually we need to overcome this feeling and reach out to them. It’s also fine if – as may well be the case – we don’t know the answers. Sometimes just our presence is helpful.

Weeping and crying is a good thing to do: Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. We may feel it’s unbiblical to cry, but grief is godly and natural. Our culture doesn’t like mourning, but Jesus was a ‘man of suffering, and familiar with pain’ (Is. 53:3). In the process of walking through pain and suffering it is not up to us to tell the sufferer when they are done. Sometimes people will never stop grieving, but as Colin Smith helpfully says, ‘God gave His people a counsellor who wept with them, put the pain of their loss into words, ministered to their guilt and grief, and brought hope and healing from the ashes of their loss’.*

The variety of suffering which the Bible covers includes suffering from natural disasters, suffering caused by others, suffering from disease, suffering from relationships, suffering brought on by ourselves, and many more. So, what is the best medicine?

I have found it to be God’s Word. If we can do nothing else, we can certainly read a short Bible passage to a suffering friend. If you’re short of ideas, then I would suggest the Psalms, which cover the whole range of human emotions. These words were prepared by God thousands of years ago and have been used ever since to provide comfort in times of need and suffering.

Sometimes the Psalms don’t give us an answer to our pain. Psalm 88 ends bleakly, without even a hint of an answer, let alone a happy ending. But that’s true of life sometimes. The Bible doesn’t flinch from reality and it doesn’t always wrap things up neatly.

Job shows us that we can tell God if we feel angry or upset with Him. God is able to cope with our emotions. It is very striking that Job is angry with God. He goes well beyond what might be considered reverent or proper, yet at the end of the book it is his comforters who are rebuked, ‘You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has’ ( Job 42:7), God says. We need to get over the feeling that we can only help if we are strong. Actually, suffering will impact all of us – we are all sufferers – we all need Christ’s presence.

Sometimes there is little or nothing that we can do except pray. Prayer is a wonderful privilege. The old hymns says it well:

Oh what needless pains we bear

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer.**

Being available for people is important, especially over the long term. Sometimes people feel stigmatised. Dr Paul Brand, who was an orthopaedic surgeon who treated people with leprosy, tells a moving story about a badly deformed person who nervously visited his local church. A regular just patted the space next to him on the pew, indicated that he should come and sit there. The simple act deeply touched the suffering man.

Job is continually looking for a friend, an advocate, someone to represent him. We now know that he was looking for Christ.

God’s ultimate answer to suffering is not a philosophy or even theology, but it is a person. When nothing else makes sense and nothing else is left, He is there and He will hold us fast.

This also means that if we are not sure what to do, then we can’t go far wrong if we follow Christ’s example in dealing with suffering, above all, in showing compassion. James says, ‘As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy’ ( Jas. 5:11).

* Colin Smith, For All Who Grieve (10Publishing, 2020), p. 105.

** Joseph M. Scriven, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’, 1855.

Excerpt from Hope in the face of suffering – 20 devotions for tough times by Jeremy Marshall

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