Compassion

I’ve been reading Job this week, and last night I started noticing how desperate he seems for understanding—and not just from God. Lonely and hurting, Job wants his friends to listen to him and comfort him. Instead they rail against him and belittle him. They quickly dismiss his feelings and berate him for expressing those feelings honestly.  As sad as Job is about what he’s lost, he seems pushed over the edge by his “friends.” He cries:

"Oh, friends, dear friends, take pity on me.
God has come down hard on me!
Do you have to be hard on me, too?
Don’t you ever tire of abusing me?”

Pity is all Job wants.  Suppose he did deserve his pain—wouldn’t he still deserve compassion?

What do suffering people need? Compassion. They don’t need long speeches. They don’t need sermons about the consequences of their sins (there will be time for that later). In the midst of their darkness, suffering people need listeners and healers. They need a judgement-free place to express their hurt.

I’m not always as compassionate as I’d like to be. Sometimes I act like Job’s friends and I try to be wise in a situation much better served by silence. Recently Justin and his sister were talking about some problems in their family, problems that have left each of them vulnerable and confused. Trying my hand at comfort I said something about how maybe God had a plan to transform what seemed terrible into something good. My theology was accurate, but my timing was terrible, and my sister-in-law, hurt by my lack of compassion, fell silent.

Most words seem pithy or hollow in the face of devastation. And Job seems to suggest that we all stop talking and start listening, listening and doing. I shouldn’t jump to correct what I see as mistakes, and when I’ve finished listening I should find a way to meet practical, physical needs—like Jesus did repeatedly when He saw a crowd and had “compassion.” He fed people and healed people and forgave people.

When I’m hurting, I don’t always want a solution to my problem or a reason for my pain. I want comfort and understanding and help—just like Job.