The book of Job fascinates me. Between the interaction with Satan and God, God’s overarching control of everything, Job’s response in the midst of great sorrow, and the subsequent response of his friends, I have always finished Job with lots to ponder and process. We can learn a lot about counseling from the book of Job. And I found myself repeatedly praying throughout the entire book, asking God to protect me from the all too familiar tendency to counsel like Job’s friends.
There are three things about counseling that stood out to me while reading.
- Counseling must begin with a clear understanding of God. We see from Job’s friends that they begin counseling Job from a faulty and improper view of God and how he operates with his children. They assumed that Job must have committed some sin against God in order to be the recipient of such suffering. How often do we try and counsel our friends from our own perceived view of God, rather than what the Bible says about him? Bringing a wrong view of God to people in their suffering will not only discourage them, but it will provide no hope for them in their trial.
- Counseling must show empathy and care for the one suffering. Hurting people need to feel loved. More importantly, they need to feel loved by God. Sometimes that love means saying nothing. Sometimes it means showing them a bigger view of God. This is where empathy comes in. We must enter into the pain of the people we are counseling. Job’s friends started off well (Job 2:11-13), but they did not stay there. Perhaps they thought he was taking too long to get over his pain. Maybe they just didn’t understand their friend. We don’t really know. But we do know that they did not continue to serve their friend in his suffering. Often showing empathy means getting out of our comfort zone (and our opinions), but it will serve our friends.
- Counseling must show people that God is for them. Job continued to hold to his innocence of wrongdoing. His friends could have helped him see that his suffering was not necessarily a result of God’s discipline. Reiterating God’s care and love for a hurting brother or sister can sometimes be the very means God uses to bring them hope.
Perhaps you are reading this and feeling saddened by past failures to counsel suffering people well. Or maybe you are overwhelmed by your inability for the task. You are in good company. We all are. But God is faithful to redeem you of insensitivity and inability. Left to ourselves we cannot help anyone. We need Christ’s work to enable us to do all that he calls us to. This is why all counseling needs to be bathed in prayer and done in humility. We must entrust ourselves to the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine both through us and in the lives of hurting people.