1 Then Job replied: 2 “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all! 3 Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? 4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. 5 But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”
All throughout the Book of Job, three “counselors” try to tell Job why he’s suffering, telling him how he “deserves what’s coming to him” because he is human and therefore evil in God’s sight. Chapter 15, for example, is nothing but a diatribe against Job and people like him–sinful people who do not deserve blessings. So in chapter 16, Job answers this “Christian-esque” criticism with some pointed replies that many modern non-Christians have echoed even today.
I believe this passage is very appropriate for all of us Christians to read and learn from today, because the Christian church today is known as a prideful, judgmental institution among nonbelievers. Sounds harsh, but it’s a widely-held belief. Ask any random non-Christian what they think about “the church,” and you will inevitably hear some variation of that definition. For that matter, I used to think the same myself. Sadly, people see the Christian church as judgmental rather than helpful to people in need; the so-called Christian response to the AIDS epidemic is one glaring example, with actual churchgoers often saying things like “Well, why should I care about AIDS? It’s just a gay disease–if they weren’t sinning, they wouldn’t get it.”
On this and many other social, physical, and emotional issues, people simply don’t like to ask Christians for help anymore, for fear they will be judged and ridiculed. Job was no stranger to this kind of attitude, and that’s what he’s arguing against in this passage. He doesn’t want to be told how he deserves the suffering he’s enduring; he wants someone to understand, and to help with compassion and caring.
It’s all too easy to judge those who are suffering as somehow “deserving” of what’s happened to them, especially if a string of bad decisions has led them to their current state. But those who are suffering need compassion, the exact kind of compassion Jesus showed in the New Testament. They need someone to understand their situations, pray with them, and act as a beacon of God’s mercy and grace against the despair that threatens to claim them.
Think of it this way: a suffering person is like a drowning person in deep water. Judgmental Christians simply stand on the shoreline and shout encouragement or make gestures to tell the person to swim closer in to shore; compassionate Christians throw a rope or float to the drowning person, or even wade out into the water and drag the person back to shore. That is the difference between being condescendingly righteous when you help someone, versus being gently compassionate. Let’s make a conscious choice to be the compassionate Christian–after all, someday we may be the one drowning in deep water, and in need of someone to drag us back to shore.