Job, the suffering man of the Old Testament, did not, at first, receive any of the answers he looked for.
He believed help was owed to him and he was ready to explain that to God. But he did not receive any of the satisfaction he sought to relieve his pain.
His friends invited him to confess sins he had not committed. They invited him to change his thinking in ways that did not make sense to him.
It’s a bit chilling is to realize that, although his friends failed to bring him any comfort, his ultimate conversation with God Himself brought even less. God did not speak soft, tender words to Job. God looked at his broken servant and told him, “Brace yourself like a man.”
That shut Job up. After 128 verses of withering questions from God, Job can only lie down in the dust and ashes and say, “I despise myself.”
It does not seem a warm, pastoral encounter. Or do I have it wrong? Is it possible that this stark lesson shows what pastoral care really should be like?
Because it seems that Job’s comfort is not the first priority to God. That place belongs to Truth. No comfort is possible without it. No healing will begin apart from it. Job can not frame the discussion and ask God to fit into it. It will be the other way round.
I noticed an echo of Job’s encounter in John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus is already aware the crowd following him must be hungry. The way John tells the story, it is Jesus who first raises the issue with Philip. “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) John adds the comment that Jesus was only testing Philip. Jesus “already had in mind what he was going to do.” So it’s not that Jesus is really asking for any advice. It’s more like Jesus wants Philip to see the situation clearly.
So while the hungry crowd waits, Jesus teases Philip. Philip takes it as a serious question and a serious problem. “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Looking at the hungry people and their suffering only seems to magnify the crisis in Philip’s mind. Starting with the problem does not help him find the answer he needs. That is going to come when Jesus demonstrates that He Himself is the answer and provider.
Those of a pragmatic mindset say we must feed first, and clothe and bathe and heal and comfort those who are suffering, before we try to teach or disciple. You cannot expect to get the attention of sufferers unless you first pay attention to their agenda.
Pragmatically, I guess this is the approach to take when addressing a child, at least for awhile.
But is there a time when that approach no longer is helpful? Is that how God treated Job? Is that how Jesus decided who to listen to for direction?
Lord, do you mean to tell me that, before we talk about my issues, I have to get straight about Yours?