I hope I am getting better at pastoral counseling. When I first began doing ministry I figured that the key to effective counseling was knowing answers and giving those answers to hurting people. I’m not so sure of that anymore.
I take my cues from the book of Job. Consider this little snippet from Eliphaz’s counsel to his hurting friend Job:
“8 As for me I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause…17 Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. 18 For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal. 19 He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no evil shall touch you.”
That is good solid counsel is it not? Calamity has come upon Job. Depressing, “my life will never be the same”, type of calamity. Is it not good advice to tell a hurting man to entrust Himself to the Lord’s care? Eliphaz is reminding Job that this is a period of discipline but trust in the Lord and eventually he will heal you. Eliphaz essentially tells Job to “turn that frown upside down” God will bless you again eventually.
Every one of those verses can find other Old Testament Scripture to back it up. Whether it be from the Torah, the Psalms, or the Prophets what Eliphaz is saying is biblical.
Then why this:
“After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7, emphasis mine)
So what is the problem; is Eliphaz’s problem a theology problem?
As I read Job I am becoming increasingly convinced that the problem with Eliphaz and his two friends is not that they have horrible theology. These men aren’t the Dr. Phil and Oprah of the camel riding days. They have pretty solid theology (especially given their historical place in God’s unfolding revelation). Theology is not really their problem. Their problem is that they are wrongly applying pretty solid theology. And because of this they are not speaking accurately of the LORD.
Notice in 5:17 that Eliphaz encourages Job not to despise the discipline of the LORD. That is true. But it does not apply to Job because this is not happening to Job because of the Lord’s discipline. So everything that Eliphaz says—no matter how true theologically—is off the mark. It is crappy counsel.
Those of us that are pastors need to be extra sensitive in seeing ourselves in Eliphaz. We spend a good amount of our time studying Scripture, rubbing shoulders with people, and learning the ways of the LORD. We typically know the right answers. But we are prone to being like Eliphaz where we try to make our theological answers fit every situation. Sometimes we need to just listen and humbly say, "maybe I don’t have the answers to this one”.