Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and the duty of believers to humbly reach out to others in respect of reverence of God, or the fear of Yahweh.
Now this idea is based on an interesting verse in Job which has several different meanings depending on which English version one is using, or how one places the emphasis in the original language.
The NIV relates Job 6:14 in the following manner:
“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.”
This is pretty straightforward, and even contains a nice moral theme of demonstrating that those who are not kind with their friends are demonstrating that they themselves have forsaken the “fear of the Almighty.”
Now, we’ll talk more about the fear of God in a little bit; but want I want to focus on for the moment is comparing this translation of this verse with a more accurate one from the NASB. It reads like this:
“For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.”
The Holman CSB reads in a similar way:
“A despairing man should receive loyalty from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty.”
These types of translations are closer to the text and the context, and express a different emphasis of conveying that friends should extend kindness to their friends even when (or specifically so the friends don’t) abandon the fear of God.
Now, truth be told, I had written a whole article last year on this verse, focusing on the first type of translation, how not extending compassion to one’s friend could be an indication that someone has lost the fear of God. When we don’t recognize how God wants us to reach out and help others, we are negating our reverence for God. I said it this way:
“If we do not have the fear of God, Job says, we have no motivation for expressing compassion to those less fortunate or those who are going through rough patches in their lives; we withhold kindness. We instead focus on our personal agendas which end up being relatively insignificant by comparison.”
This is not an untrue statement. We are typically self-centered by nature, and if we do not have the fear of God in our lives, we typically spend little time caring for the needs of others.
However, this is not what this verse actually says when it is viewed in its entire context. Contextually, the secondary versions from the NASB and the Holman CSB are more accurate. These focus on the friends providing compassion to a friend in need so that the needful friend does not abandon all hope and reject the fear of God altogether.
Let’s look at the context to show how this bears out.
In this passage, Job is bewailing the struggle and grief he is experiencing.
Job 6:2, 4, 8-10 – “Oh that my grief were actually weighed And laid in the balances together with my calamity! … “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, Their poison my spirit drinks; The terrors of God are arrayed against me. … “Oh that my request might come to pass, And that God would grant my longing! “Would that God were willing to crush me, That He would loose His hand and cut me off! “But it is still my consolation, And I rejoice in unsparing pain, That I have not denied the words of the Holy One.”
This is the recurring theme of Job: how he maintains his innocency and yet God is afflicting him.
Then, in his continuing monologue, Job becomes dismissive of his friends who, rather than building him up, are instead accusing Job of some wrongdoing that has resulted in his condition.
Job 6:25-27 – “How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? “Do you intend to reprove my words, When the words of one in despair belong to the wind? “You would even cast lots for the orphans And barter over your friend.”
Job is saying they are not acting as true friends who should be comforting him; rather they are providing arguments of why he is wrong during his time of suffering. They are not acting as true friends, but as judges, trying to outdo each other to provide the correct assessment of why he is in the predicament he is.
So, understanding the fuller context can now help us determine which of the translations of verse 14 are more accurate. Is Job saying that forsaking a friend means one has lost the fear of God themself, or is he saying that real friends would comfort a friend in need to prevent him from abandoning his fear of God?
Notice what Job says:
Job 6:26 – “Do you intend to reprove my words, When the words of one in despair belong to the wind?
Job is upbraiding them for reproving him when they should recognize instead that someone who is in despair is likely uttering words with no meaning. They should be comforting him in his affliction rather than trying to prove to him why he deserves to be afflicted. They should be doing everything they can to make sure that Job does not lose his fear of God in his despair.
This type of textual analysis really drives home to me the importance of good, comprehensive Bible study. It is very easy for us to arrive at faulty conclusions when we are pulling verses out of context for the sake of proving some point we are attempting to make. It’s kind of like Job’s friends who grasped at anything to show Job why he was in the wrong; we have a tendency to create our own type of meaning where there really isn’t any, and we miss the bigger picture of our responsibility toward others.
This, I believe, is one of the main reasons the apostle James could write the following:
James 3:1-2 – “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways…”
Teaching about the Bible is a humbling challenge that requires constant re-evaluation and sometimes a readjustment of perspective. Seeing how this verse can be slanted in different directions reminds me of how I need to humbly and prayerfully ensure I am also always trying to convey the correct context at all times to derive the greatest application.
Now that we understand a bit more about the context of Job 6, we can look at verse 14 as helping us understand how and why we should be interacting with our friends who may be struggling.
“A despairing man should receive kindness from his friends, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty.”
This aligns most closely with the literal rendering of the original Hebrew which reads: “To him who is afflicted, by his friend, kindness, even though the fear of the Almighty he forsakes.”
This admonition of Job for all believers drives us to the conclusion that we should always extend kindness, not judgment, for those we know who may be suffering. In doing so, we are helping to keep them from losing their reverence for God in their despair. Or if they have no reverence for God, we demonstrate God’s love to them in simply caring for their needs without judgment.
This was recently brought home to me by reading an article by Allie Brosh, the creator of the “Hyperbole and a half” blog and books. In it, she describes in a humorous, yet poignant and profound way, how people she knew found it almost impossible to relate to her while she was battling severe clinical depression.
She relates it this way: “They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen. From their perspective it seems there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of…”
This is almost the exact situation Job found himself in. His friends were trying so hard to analyze why he was afflicted, they just kept attacking his problem from their perspective, when all he really needed was some affirmation that they were there for him.
Allie continues how it appears from the perspective of the one who is afflicted: “The problem might not even have a solution. But you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions.” She then goes on to describe how the most helpful things would have been for her friends to say things like, “Sorry that you are going through this,” or “Wow, that seems really difficult, but I still like you.” In this way, they would be affirming their concern without laying down judgment on why she was suffering. That type of compassion goes a long way toward providing real comfort to those in need, even if it doesn’t solve their problems.
The good news is, Allie was able to overcome her deep depression and regain her sense of purpose. And, while I don’t personally know Allie or her spiritual state before God, if she had been a believer during her affliction, and her friends had acted in a godly, supportive and non-judgmental way, she would likely have been encouraged to not lose all hope in her reverence for God, her “fear of the Almighty,” as Job says.
So, as promised earlier, let’s explore this phrase a little further. “The fear of the Almighty” or “the fear of the Lord” are phrases that have fallen out of use in our modern religious vernacular. Rarely is God represented as a being who is to be feared; rather, his mercy and forgiveness are emphasized above and beyond all of the qualities of his being.
To better understand this admonition to fear God, we would do well to investigate the word that is translated in our English versions as “fear.” In regular vocabulary, that word to us means to be frightened or scared of something or someone who might do us harm. However, in biblical terminology, the term goes beyond that into a broader usage of “reverence” or “awe.”
If we have the fear of God, we have the deepest respect and reverence for God, recognizing just how awesome and powerful he really is. Whether we read of his power in the creation of all things, or the separating of the Red Sea, or in the resurrection of Yeshua, we are glimpsing the majesty and glory that sits outside of our natural understanding into the supernatural realm of God’s character and abilities. When we incorporate that perspective of the other-ness of God into our daily lives, we cannot help acting and working differently than others around us who have a physical-only worldview.
This concept of perspective-changing awe is a known commodity, even outside of religious environments. Marina Koren, writing in the The Atlantic periodical under their science category, relates the following assessment of awe. She dubs it “galaxy brain,” and conveys that it is a concept that has demonstrable effects in the lives of those who experience it:
“Imagine yourself at a scenic vista somewhere on Earth, such as the rim of the Grand Canyon or the shore of an ocean stretching out past the horizon line. As your brain processes the view and its sheer vastness, feelings of awe kick in. Looking at a photo is not the same, but we might get a dose of that when we look at a particularly sparkly Hubble picture of a star cluster. The experience of awe, whether we’re standing at the summit of a mountain or sitting in front of a computer screen, can lead to “a diminished sense of self,” a phrase psychologists use to describe feelings of smallness or insignificance in the face of something larger than oneself. Alarming as that may sound, research has shown that the sensation can be a good thing: A shot of awe can boost feelings of connectedness with other people.”
Having the larger perspective of awe can help us realize that the things we value as important to us in the short term of our temporary lives pale in contrast with the more important things that the God of the universe expects of us, such as helping others.
When someone receives a kind gesture from another person, have you ever heard them say something like, “This helped me regain my faith in humanity?” This implies that everyone is so used to being treated negatively by others that one kind action can have a big impact on them. As believers, though, our purpose through kindness is not to have others regain their faith in humanity (although that is a good start), but it is to have them recognize how the God of the universe is reaching out to them through our kind and helpful actions. We should be helping others to maintain their fear of the Almighty, or to recognize it if they have never experienced it.
This involves a large level of humility. Describing the “galaxy brain,” Marina Koren said when we experience this sense of awe it results in “diminishment of self.” Taken as a whole, the Bible is really all about instilling in us a sense of diminishment of self.
Proverbs 15:33 – “The fear of Yahweh is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility.”
Proverbs 29:23 – “A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
Yeshua even spoke about the obedience of humility in this way:
Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Paul, in writing to the Philippian congregation, says:
Philippians 2:3-4 – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
As we have seen, humility can be accomplished through a sense of awe and wonder for the God who created all things and who placed us within his creation to make a compassionate difference in the lives of those around us. Our kindness toward others not only reveals our reverence for God, but for those who are in desperate situations, it can revive or even create a kindred sense of awe for God.
When we operate within that sense of big-picture reverence for our Creator, we are not only encouraged but compelled to express his compassion. In this way, the two greatest commands, to love God and love others, can be fulfilled in us.
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