Comfort In – Dump Out

We left Job last week giving a pretty existential response to having lost his 10 kids, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys and all his servants.  “Naked I came into the world and naked I’ll leave it”, he says.  Or in more contemporary usage, I didn’t have anything when I was born and there isn’t anything I need when I die.  And not to mention, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” Job says.

That was chapter one.  Today, Job isn’t quite so philosophical about his lot in life.  He seems downright angry about what has gone on.  In chapter two Satan plays God, basically saying, “Well yeah, even after you’ve allowed all.the.things to be taken away he’s still blameless and upright.  But it really hasn’t affected Job personally other than losing all his stuff”

Remember in chapter one God tells Satan not to touch Job.  Now God relents, telling Satan, “Okay, you can mess with Job, but don’t KILL him.”  So Job is afflicted with great sores all over his body.  Think having a massive cold sore all over your body.  And then if that wasn’t enough Job’s wife comes on the scene suggesting that Job just curse God and die.  Nice.  Thanks, Mrs Job, that’s helpful.

Even at that, Job keeps his cool telling her, and this is pretty good advice, “What?  We only take the good and not the bad?”  He still hasn’t lost his marbles yet.

Then three friends show up.  It starts out pretty well.  The three friends don’t say anything at first.  They just sit with Job in silence.  For a week.  Did I mention in silence?  How many friends do you have that you would do this for a week?  Most of us would struggle to last 7 hours without speaking, much less 7 days.  But they do it.

And then, Job unloads.  That’s where we begin today. Job doesn’t curse God or anything but he’s fed up enough that he curses the day he was born.  Repeatedly.  For the entirety of chapter 3.  He goes on and on and on and on, completely and totally fed up.  He’s lost his family.  He’s lost all.the.things.  He’s got a cold sore covering his body.  Life couldn’t get much worse and he’s just completely and totally done.

Then one of his friends jumps in with some commentary.  Hmmm… wonder how this turns out.  His friends starts off nicely enough, ““If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?”  That seems like a polite enough start for having a conversation.  But them comes the kicker statement, “ But who can keep from speaking?”  We just went from polite to passive aggressive.  The Old Testament equivalent of “I’m going to tell you this for your own good.”

Continuing with more, um, shall we say unhelpful comments.  The long and short of the comments Eliphaz makes in chapter four are found in V8 , “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity  and sow trouble reap the same.” Or as we would more commonly say it, you reap what you sow.  The implication is that in spite of all his uprightness and blamelessness, Job has done something somewhere along the line that is coming back to create a problem for him.  His current misfortunes are due to something he has said or done.  Or left undone.

It’s the second millennia BC version of victim blaming.  Something bad happened to you so you must have done something to provoke it. Clearly, Job has done something in the past for which God must smite him for.  And Job is certainly smited, isn’t he?  Therefore, in a gross twisting of logic, Job has clearly sinned.

God checks in in chapter 5 to let Job know that while he may feel all alone, God is still present, in the good times and in the bad.  God is always around and available.  Job isn’t so much buying this.

It seems to Job that he is still abandoned amidst all of this misfortune.

You and I know that God is always around.  We teach that, we preach that and we believe that in everything we say and do.  We also know that there are times that it feels like God has abandoned us completely.  Even the human side of Jesus on the cross asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  This isn’t unusual and God is fully prepared for our anger.  God has big shoulders and thick skin so being angry with God isn’t going to change God’s love for us.

What we can change, however, is how we respond to people experiencing horrific loss, incredible tragedy or a feeling of hopelessness.  We’ve all been there.  That moment when we’re around someone in a crisis and we don’t know what to say.  It’s a difficult problem and not one easily solved.  Still, there are a few guidelines we can work with.

First, don’t be an Eliphaz.  Don’t blame the victim.  Even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in some fashion they caused their own tragedy, it isn’t usually helpful to point it out.  You don’t tell former smokers with lung cancer that they shouldn’t have smoked.  They already know that.  You don’t tell someone with skin cancer that they should have worn sunscreen.   They already know that.  Even if it’s true, it isn’t helpful.  Don’t be an Eliphaz.

That’s what we don’t say.  What then shall we say?  I like to use the principle of comfort in/ dump out, sometimes called Ring Theory.  Developed by Susan Silk and written about by Susan and Barry Goldman in a 2013 LA Times article it basically gives us a roadmap of who should say what to whom.

The essential idea is that what you say and to whom you say it is framed by your reference point.  At the very center of any situation is the person who is actually in the middle of it, the person who is actually afflicted or grieving.  The person in the middle can dump out to anyone he or she wants.  Everyone else should comfort in or offer comfort without placing emotional demands on the person afflicted or grieving.  Susan Silk had breast cancer and after surgery commented to a colleague who wanted to stop by that she wasn’t up for visitors.  The colleague who had the need to see Susan really wanted and needed to see her replying that “It’s not all about you.”  Excuse me?  In this case I think it probably is exactly all about her.

The next reference point or ring is immediate family and friends who are right there in the middle of it but not the person afflicted or grieving.  Their job is to offer comfort to the person or persons inside their ring.  If they have something they need to dump out they do that within their ring or outwardly.  This is the mistake Susan Silk’s colleague made.  Her needs and feelings are understandable but dumping them inwardly wasn’t helpful to those more in need than she.  Comfort in, dump out.

When we comfort in and dump out we become a tangible reminder to someone hurting of the presence of God and the love of Christ.  We may want to think about ourselves and understandably so but when put other’s needs before our own desires we become like Christ, who put our need for forgiveness before his own desire for life.

The world needs more of us to be Christ-like.  When we comfort in and dump out, putting someone else’s need above our own desires we start to make the world a better place.  The world needs more of us to be Christ-like.

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