Sometimes, People Don't Need More Theology

You can be right and still be wrong.

Nina Strehl


WHEN PEOPLE ARE HURTING, it can be difficult to know how to help them.

I read a good book a few years ago called When Helping Hurts that details instances in which charitable contributions actually do more harm than good. Don't misread me, generosity is a great thing. It encapsulates the very heart of God, who is a giver. But gifts that create dependency or are simply Band-Aids for more serious symptoms could actually hurt in the long run.

Money matters aside, how do we help people who are suffering? Many times I think we, not knowing what else to do, toss theology at people when what they really need is a hug or the mere presence of a friend.

Job's friends started off right when they sat with him in silence for seven days. After a week Job spoke up, lamenting his birth. He was in so much anguish he said, "Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? … Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light?" (Job 3:11,16).

That's dark.

You've gotta be in a pretty grim frame of mind to utter these kinds of words.

How would you respond?

If your name is Eliphaz or Bildad, you just can't wait to spout off all of the wisdom you've amassed over the years. First Eliphaz says the innocent prosper, insinuating Job is guilty of something.  In response Job claims his complaint is just, but he "would choose strangling and death" (Job 7:15) and that he loathes his life.

Here's a man in dire straits. He's confused, angry, depressed, and in agony. What does he need?

Why, more theology, of course!

Bildad can't hold his tongue. He essentially says Job's children deserved to die. He dismisses Job's cries for help as "a great wind" (Job 8:2).

Hear me please: good theology is good—critical even to a vibrant faith. In my opinion every Christian should know what they believe and why they believe it.

But there are times when people, Christian or not, don't need another lecture or sermon or platitude. Sometimes people just need a good neighbor.

And here's the thing about Bildad. He may have been sarcastic, insensitive, and prideful in his delivery, but he actually got some things right. He told Job that "though your beginning was small, your latter days will be great" (Job 8:7). These words proved to be prophetic. The author of the book—presumably Job—wrote that "the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12) almost as a troll to Bildad who probably didn't believe such was even possible.

And yet, we can be totally right and still be wrong. Even if Bildad's theology was 100% correct (it wasn't), the timing and delivery was inappropriate. I know I've said some insensitive things in my lifetime, but I hope I never blame the grieved for their grief.

What can we learn from Bildad? He's an exaggerated example, but I hope I hold fast to the fact that being right isn't always the most important thing.

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