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Empathy, Not Condemnation

Published 7/15/19

And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.


• Job's friends displayed empathy in response to his suffering. Why is this important? (Share about a moment when you did the same for a hurting friend.)

• Often we provide the most comfort to those who are hurting by our silent presence. Have you reached out in this way? (Please explain.)

• What are some other ways that we can show empathy?

When Job's friends saw him from a distance, they were overwhelmed. They were likely used to seeing their wealthy friend nicely groomed, healthy and fit, and in good spirits. Now they saw him with his clothes torn and beard shorn, sitting in the dust weeping. They responded with empathy rather than sympathy. They, too, tore their clothes and began to weep. They joined Job sitting in the dirt.

Perhaps even more remarkable is that they spent the next seven days and nights sitting with him without saying a word. Whether this was intentional or just a sign of their overwhelming grief, we'll never know. It's telling, though, in that it illustrates the power of just being present with a hurting friend.

One of our ministry staff at Back to the Bible, Sam, shared a poignant memory about such an experience from his own life. He shares how his father's coworker Art responded when Sam's mother was dying. He writes:

When things got bad, everyone flew in. Aunts, cousins, grandparents. They were full of distractions--trips to the zoo, cigarettes, loud jokes.

Dad spent most nights in the hospital room alone, doing his best to look death in the eyes. When Art finished his shift at 3:00 a.m., he would join Dad, hat in hand, working the cigar in the corner of his mouth. They didn't talk, but Art came almost every night and sat, reading his King James Bible in the eerie loneliness of that awful room.

And I don't mean to slight anyone else who was there--who can blame them?--but all the casseroles and condolences didn't mean much. Art was simply present, offering no critiques or advice. He would occasionally weep, occasionally pray, and then he would leave Dad sleeping fitfully in the thinly padded hospital chair.

I learned a lot that Christmas. It was a dark time, chaotic and unraveling. I learned what fear, what death looked like. But through Art, and others like him, I learned what love looked like, too. I learned why Jesus cried at a funeral. I learned that sometimes the only thing that should be offered is silence.

Perhaps it was the comforting presence of friends that led Jesus to take Peter, James, and John with him when he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. As he faced the sacrifice to come, he didn't seek their words of comfort, but rather just their companionship.

Similarly, Job's friends provide a poignant example of how to respond to a friend in need. Through sharing in Job's grief and being powerfully present, they provide a humbling example of what friendship is.


Lord, I know that You have promised never to leave me or forsake me. I cherish that promise. Help me to follow Your spirit in comforting others, whether that is through words or simply my silent presence. Amen.

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