Early in my career as a medical student I learned a very important lesson and it was the concept of suspending judgment. My instructor in history taking told me that I needed to become “unshockable”. I was going to see things and hear stories that would leave most people with their mouths hanging open and their eyes as big as silver dollars. But, I the physician needed to be able to see and listen without showing my approval/disapproval, amazement or disgust. 
 
It required me not to make a judgment about the person before I knew as much about their problem as I could. 
 
I have been reading Job this week on my annual tour through the Bible, and there have been several things that have
caught my attention. The first thing comes right in the first verse of chapter one. The writer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says that Job “…was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Those are very
absolute adjectives. This story is about the suffering of a man that most would say was good by our standards. We would say that because that is what text says. 

I am not going to discuss a theology of suffering in this post. Others are far more qualified than I am to do that. But,
one important thing comes to mind about Job and his three “friends.” I have said that those three stand as a warning to anyone who is interested in trying to help a suffering struggler. They refused to suspend judgment. 
 
The story is familiar to most. Job loses his children, his possessions and his health and then while he is sitting on an
ash heap scraping his boils with a broken piece of pottery, his wife tells him to curse God and die. Job responds by telling her that she was speaking like the foolish women speak. The writer goes on to tell us that “in all this Job did not
sin with his lips.” 

And, just when things looked like they couldn’t get worse for poor Job, those three friends show up. Those men did
fairly good job of comforting for the first seven days. They sat with Job and said nothing. They don’t get into trouble until they start talking. And, then they go after Job with their minds made up. Nothing this bad could happen to Job
unless he had sinned. And, for most of the book they hound him from their position of ignorance. 

Proverbs 18:13 tells us “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” When we try to help
people who are struggling perhaps the most important thing we can do is the one thing Job’s “friends” missed. Suspend judgment, listen long and avoid deciding the cause of the strugglers suffering until you’ve heard the whole story! And, sometimes as in Job’s case, there won’t be a conclusion to make because part of the story is unknown. 

As we approach people who suffer we need arm ourselves with scripture such as James 2:12-13. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” It will keep us from jumping to conclusions based on our own prejudice. It will also keep us from adding to a suffering struggler’s misery instead offering comfort and help. 

And by the way, it is our ability to suspend judgment that allows us to watch SciFi movies and enjoy them. Everyone knows that engaging the warp drive on the starship Enterprise would crush the crew on the back wall like bugs. We just choose to ignore it long enough to enjoy the movie.


9/12/2013 07:13:54 am

Even Job had to suspend judgment...of God. In the end, he realized, "I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not" (42:3).

I find that just as I need to the patience to suspend judgment when helping strugglers, I need similar patience to remind myself that I don't know the whole purposes of God in my own life.

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9/12/2013 09:57:29 am

That is a good observation! Well said!

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