A Word from Bob 

You’re reading Part 3 of a blog mini-series on empathy.

Mini-Series Introduction 

There’s been some controversy in evangelical Christian circles the past year about “empathy,” with some even saying “empathy is sinful.” For 36 years (since 1985), I’ve equipped God’s people for compassionate, empathetic one-another care. This issue has been important to me long before the current controversy. In this blog series, rather than giving you a negative critique of those who say, “empathy is sinful,” I’m providing a positive presentation of what the Bible says about one-another care. And, rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m taking this series from the culmination of 36 years of thinking about this, as summarized in my equipping book, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ.

Slamming the Casket Shut: How Not to Empathize 

If empathy is climbing in the casket, then slamming the casket shut pictures its opposite. We can learn how not to empathize from bad examples—such as Job’s “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2)

Instead of grace connecting, Job’s miserable comforters practiced condemning distancing. When we combine their bad theology (Job 42:7) with their cold hearts (Job 16:2), it is not at all surprising that they lacked relational competency.

They communicated superiority. “We’re better than you. You’re inferior to us” (see Job 5:8; 8:2; 11:2-12; 12:1-3; 15:7-17).

They communicated judgmentalism. “It’s not normal to hurt! Your suffering is due to your sinning!” (see Job 4:4-9; 15:2-6).

They offered advice without insight and discernment. “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” “Do this and life’s complexities will melt away.” “I have the secret that will fix your feelings and change your circumstances” (see Job 5:8; 8:5-6; 11:13-20; 42:7).

Non-Empathy Is Sin 

Eliphaz (Job 4-5, 15, and 22) is the master of discouragement and dismay. He provides Job with conditional love while he curses God. Eliphaz teaches that God is good to the good, but bad to the bad. He does not know grace. He does know works: “You can manipulate God into being good to you by being good to him.” What a petty God Eliphaz worships. Eliphaz says to Job, “Don’t live coram Deo. Don’t tell God your heart. Be surface.” He misinterprets Job’s words as venting rage at God rather than soul-sharing with God.

Bildad (Job 8, 18, and 25) has a somewhat right theology with a very wrong application. “The issue is your sin!” Seeing only sin, he is wrong in Job’s case. For God, the issue was Job’s response to him in his suffering. The issue was Job’s privileged opportunity to be a universal witness to God’s goodness. The issue was not Job’s sinfulness. Bildad does not know the man he calls “friend.” He labels (and libels) Job “the evil man who knows not God.”

Zophar (Job 11 and 20) also presents a works righteousness. He believes that good works can cover shame. 

Job’s View of His Miserable, Non-Empathetic, “Comforters” 

How does Job view their counsel?

Miserable comforters (Job 16:2) they are. Rather than communicating that “it’s normal to hurt,” they increase Job’s hurt. Having no compassionate discernment, they claim that his wounds are self-inflicted. “How we will hound him, since the root of the trouble lies in him” (Job 19:28).

They crush Job’s spirit through their long-winded speeches, argumentative nature, lack of empathy and encouragement, failure to bring relief/comfort, and their closed-minded, arrogant, superior, hostile attitudes based upon wrong motives and a condemning spirit (Job 17:1-5).              

Of them, Job concludes, “These men turn night into day; in the face of darkness they say, ‘Light is near’” (Job 17:12). They are like the counselor who says, “Don’t talk about your problems, don’t think about your suffering, and don’t remember your past hurts. Forget those things which are behind!”

They have no dark-night-of-the-soul vision, no 20/20 spiritual vision, and no long-distance vision; so they have to call the darkness light. Job, however, has long-distance vision. His heart yearns for God and he knows that he will see God (Job 19:25-27).              

Job feels no rapport with them:

“They torment me, crush me with words. I sense their reproach as they shame me. They exalt themselves. I feel so alone when I am with them. So alienated and forgotten. Here’s how my ‘spiritual friends’ make me feel: alienated, estranged, forgotten, offensive, loathsome. All my intimate friends detest me; they have turned against me, having no pity on me” (author’s paraphrase of Job 19).              

They are unwise. They offer nonsense answers because they’re not paying attention to life, not learning life’s lessons.

“You have not wisely paid attention to how things work in the real world. Your academic knowledge, your theologizing, is out to lunch. How can you console/comfort me with your vain nonsense, since your answers are falsehood? You are wrong about life, about me, and about God!” (author’s paraphrase of Job 21).              

They are “sin-spotters.” They know confrontation only. Thus, they become co-conspirators with Satan the accuser who condemns men and curses God.               

God’s View of Miserable, Non-Empathetic, Comforters 

What was God’s view of their counsel?

After speaking to Job, Yahweh says to Eliphaz.

“I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).

They failed to speak of God’s generous goodness and grace. Their God was a tit-for-tat God who could be easily manipulated by and impressed with works.

One of our greatest failures in counseling is being miserable, non-empathetic, counselors who speak wrongly of God while we speak to one another. 

One of our greatest failures in counseling is being miserable, non-empathetic, counselors who minimize God’s good heart. 

The Rest of the Story 

You’re invited to join us for Part 4 and Part 5, where we’ll explore what biblical empathy looks like in real life.

Join the Conversation 

In your hurt, have you experienced “miserable comforters” who slammed the casket shut on your pain and grief? If so, what impact did their miserable counseling have upon your soul and upon your relationship to the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort?

The post Empathy Is Biblical: Part 3: How to Be a Miserable, Non-Empathetic, “Comforter” appeared first on RPM Ministries.

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