If Job Had a Therapist: Sermon on Mental Health & Resilience
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Lives That Work

If Job Had a Therapist (Or Even a Few Good Friends)

Steve Watson

May 05, 2024

So May is Mental Health Awareness month. I hadn’t realized that until a friend reached out and asked if we’d want to connect with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, who wanted to collaborate with faith communities on an awareness weekend.

I was so glad for this because our mental well-being matters to us, of course. And it matters to God and it matters to this faith community too. 

Last year we had this huge capital campaign for our 25th anniversary. You all were extraordinarily generous. You pledged over $1.4 million dollars in extra one-time giving to sustain the future of this church, the majority of which has already been given. Another big thank you to us all for that. 

Our biggest goal was to pay off all our old church debts from when we came into this property 20 years ago, and to discern some new ways our church could be a gift to us all and to our neighbors and our whole city, through some new ministry that would express our vision for God’s work of growing what we call beloved community. That’s a society of belonging, of love, of opportunity, wellness, and justice. An expression of Jesus’ vision for the commonwealth of God. 

And as you all pledged toward this campaign, we asked you what you’d like to see our church do more of, and quite a few of you mentioned mental health and wellness. So many that we have a working group right now exploring what our church can do to promote spiritual and mental wellness more broadly –for people that call Reservoir their church but also for our friends and neighbors and others in our city. We’re working on this again because your spiritual and mental well-being, and that of all your friends and neighbors matters to us and it matters to God. 

So I’m glad to be in this mental health awareness partnership today. We actually have two representatives here from the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Line. They’ll be in the dome with a whole bunch of helpful information about mental health and about a ton of mental health and recovery resources for us and for our communities. So stop by and say hi to them, ask questions, pick up resources if you like. 

And today, since we’re studying the old wisdom literature from the Hebrew scriptures, I want to introduce you or re-introduce you to the book of Job, where we meet a person who has experienced considerable trauma. And I want to ask,

What if Job had had a therapist? Or what if Job had even had a few decent friends?

Friends who weren’t therapists or experts on mental health, but maybe just knew the basics.

Job is a weird book. We’re pretty sure this is not history. It’s probably an old legend or fable that was expanded and written down by an intellectual living in Jerusalem like 2,500 years ago. 

The beginning has God making bets with some sort of Satan-type character, and the ending is basically like the very worst happy ending that anyone ever tried to slap onto a tragic story. So the very beginning and very ending, which were probably tacked on last, are kind of awful. But everything else in between is fascinating. We meet this man named Job, who is wrestling with an extraordinary amount of suffering and trauma.

Here’s a taste of it, from the beginning.

Job 1:13-22 (Common English Bible)

13 One day Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house.

14 A messenger came to Job and said: “The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were grazing nearby

15 when the Sabeans took them and killed the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

16 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “A raging fire fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and devoured the young men. I alone escaped to tell you.”

17 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Chaldeans set up three companies, raided the camels and took them, killing the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

18 While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house,

19 when a strong wind came from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It fell upon the young people, and they died. I alone escaped to tell you.”

20 Job arose, tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshipped.

21 He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.”

22 In all this, Job didn’t sin or blame God.

So if we want to keep a distance from this story, we could laugh at it. There’s something almost comical about the speed and totality with which this man’s world comes crumbling down, from two different raiding armies, and fires. and even a strong wind that knocks a whole house down and crushes Job’s kids during their party – geesh. Somewhere out there there’s a preacher saying:

it was the wine that started it.


But let’s not keep a distance. Job has a big loving family and a thriving, prosperous agricultural business, and he loses it all. This is followed soon after by some severe health problems that add chronic physical pain to this heartbreak. 

Maybe you’ve known people who have seemed to face tragedy after tragedy, like stuff just piles up on them? Like when your friend says, it seems like this is the year when all my people are dying. I met a Palestinian man this winter who’d had over 100 extended family members killed in this year’s conflict. Over 100. Those that remain alive have been dispossessed, dislocated as well. 

Or maybe, in smaller ways, you’re been this person. You’ve been the one to face a series of catastrophes that have been more than you can bear. Whether or not they’re as dramatic as Job’s, with the loss of all his children and all his property and nearly all his health. 

It doesn’t do us any good to try to rank order one another’s struggles or trauma. Suffering is suffering. And we need a lot of help when we suffer – whether that is caused by adverse circumstances, as with Job, or whether that is caused more by something within, as for those of us who have chronic physical or mental health difficulties that weren’t necessarily caused by any set of external events. 

We need companions when this happens. We need compassionate, non-judgemental support. And we need help to make it through. 

At first Job finds that from his faith. It’s a real surprise that line:

Job tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshiped.

I mean the first three things they are all signs of grief in his culture. They are things mourners might do. But the worshiping, that’s interesting.

Faith can be an incredible protective factor for our mental health and wellness. When I was looking for a therapist a number of years ago, I told the people I first spoke to on the phone that I did not need a Christian therapist. I didn’t need someone who shared my faith. But I did need someone who would be curious about my faith, and who would respect it, since it’s very important to me. And for years now, off and on, I’ve met with a therapist just like that – who doesn’t share my faith but is glad to explore how my faith colors the work we do and how my faith is a source of resilience for me, as I explore more and more just how much God knows and loves me in all things. 

I’m not actually a big fan of how Job expresses this. The line:

The Lord has given, the Lord has taken. Bless the Lord’s name.

Far be it from me to judge Job’s faith or theology – what works for you works for you, but this is like high up on the things religion can teach you to say to someone in grief that can be extraordinarily unhelpful.

Things like:

God will never give you more trouble than you can handle.

That’s horrible. One, it’s a misinterpretation of a Bible verse that says God won’t tempt you toward sin or evil or badness. But trouble?

  • One: most trouble doesn’t come from God. It’s not God’s fault that bad things happen.
  • And two: when we feel like we’re going through more than we actually can handle, we don’t need someone to tell us otherwise.

This is kind of like that. When someone faces death or any other loss, to say well, God gives good gifts, and then God takes them away, so deal with it. It’s all good. Again, perhaps for Job, believing God is in control gives him comfort. But I don’t agree with him. I don’t think most of our losses are God taking things or people from us. God’s not a taker. And the form of my Christian theology at least is that God is not always in control. Horrible things can happen that God did not make or plan for. But God is always love, and God is always with us in our losses, and God is always contending for the good. 

So not to nitpick here, but I wish Job’s worship could have looked more like knowing that horrible things happen sometimes, and they are not God’s fault, but God’s going to be with us through them all. I actually think the book of Job moves in this direction. 

I’m allowed to talk this way, by the way. Job says a lot of things. The Bible says a lot of things too. To respect the Bible’s insight and authority does not mean needing to agree with every line. The Bible contains a lot of styles of writing, and it says a lot of different things, some of which can be in tension with each other. So to respect the Bible as a witness to what God is like and what faith looks like is to engage it seriously, not to just nod and submit to every line. Don’t assent to every single thing in the Bible, but don’t throw it out either – wrestle with it. Make sense of the whole together. We’re doing that here. 

Alright, though, Job has God to lean on, and there wasn’t such a thing as a therapist back then, but at first at least, Job has three really good friends who show up for him really well. Let’s listen.

Job 2:11-13 (Common English Bible)

11 When Job’s three friends heard about all this disaster that had happened to him, they came, each one from his home—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah. They agreed to come so they could console and comfort him.

12 When they looked up from a distance and didn’t recognize him, they wept loudly. Each one tore his garment and scattered dust above his head toward the sky.

13 They sat with Job on the ground seven days and seven nights, not speaking a word to him, for they saw that he was in excruciating pain.

This week I was talking to a thanatologist. I didn’t know what that was until last week. A thanatologist is someone who studies, and educates around, and treats death, loss, and grief. We have one on our staff team at Reservoir. Aubrie Hills, our relatively new pre-school kids’ pastor, is also trained as a social worker and thanatologist. And she’s picked up a few extra hours to help us plan for some of the new ministry work we hope to do next year and beyond, like doubling the impact of our Beloved Community Fund – connecting needs and resources – and also helping us launch these spiritual and mental wellness initiatives. 

And I asked Aubrie, could you tell me what people who are grieving need most. And what she described was kind of like what these three friends do. 

She was like:

when we are grieving, we need someone, or someones, to bear witness. To show up, to listen, and to validate what we are experiencing. That this loss happened, that it’s real, that it matters. 

This goes for death, by the way, but also for other kinds of loss – loss of health, loss of relationship, loss of job, loss of innocence, loss of dreams. And Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar crush this. They stop whatever they are doing and they do what in Jewish culture is called sitting shiva. Accompanying the bereaved in the first seven days of their loss by being there. 

They can’t fix anything. They have no right words to say. In fact, the text says they were silent. For a week. 

But they were not silent with their bodies. They wept with Job. They tore their clothes and put dust on their heads too – maybe not our culture, most of us, but they did what Job was doing. They stopped what they were doing and they mourned with him. 

Aubrie told me that people who are grieving also need others to just help out. Certainly with anything they are asked for, but actually without asking what someone else needs, just doing something. Not being like: let me know if you need anything. 

(When Aubrie said this, I was like: oh, I’ve done that a bunch of times – told people, probably some of you, in low moments – let me know if you need anything. And Aubrie was like people grieving need someone to just do the thing they know how to do that helps. Like say I’m going to drop some food at your door Wednesday night, is that OK? I’d like to walk your dog in the mornings this week if that would help. Is that OK?)

I’m going to give Job’s buddies the benefit of the doubt and say they probably did this. They showed up after all, and let’s imagine they brought food with them or something. 

But then the third thing that came to mind for Aubrie the thanatologist when we were talking is she was like:

then people who are grieving need others to keep doing this. To keep showing up, listening, bearing witness. 

Not just for a few days, but in a month, in three months, in nine months. Because grief can take a while, and mostly other people move on faster than the one who’s born the loss.

And here’s where Job’s friends start screwing up. We’ll skip forward just a few chapters and get one more excerpt.  

Job 8:1-7 (Common English Bible)

Bildad from Shuah responded:

2 How long will you mouth such things
    such that your utterances become a strong wind?
3 Does God pervert justice,
    or does the Almighty distort what is right?
4 If your children sinned against him,
    then he delivered them into the power of their rebellion.
5 If you will search eagerly for God,
    plead with the Almighty.
6 If you are pure and do the right thing,
    then surely he will become active on your behalf
    and reward your innocent dwelling.
7 Although your former state was ordinary,
    your future will be extraordinary.

What has happened? 

Job’s been wondering things like:

why did my kids die? Why am I suffering so much? Where is God in all this?

I was taught,

Job says,

that God blesses the good and curses the bad. But I’m good. I’ve been faithful. I’ve lived right. What the heck, God?

Whatever you think of all that, normal stuff for a religious person to wonder about in grief? 

But it makes Job’s friends uncomfortable, so they start spouting the garbage they learned in Bible school. 


God probably punished your kids, Job, for something they did wrong.

(Maybe it was the wine.)

And how dare you question God? And if you’ll get yourself together, God will bless you again. Everything has a reason, they say.


maybe God needed another angel in heaven.


maybe you lost a child, but you can have another one. Horrible things people have said to someone in grief. 

Job’s friends want him to move on because they are uncomfortable with the honest, raw mess of grief. 

When someone we know is in grief, or when someone we know is struggling with anxiety or depression or any other form of mental health struggle, we may be uncomfortable with the degree of their difficulty. And we might not have answers to things they do or say. And that’s OK. Most of us aren’t therapists. We’re not being asked to fix anything. (And even our therapists don’t exactly fix things either, even if they have some specific skill sets for treatment.)

What grieving people need is others to bear witness and help a little, and to keep bearing witness. To show up, to care, to be there with whatever compassion or empathy we can find. That’s the job. 

And that’s where Job’s friends can’t pull it off. 

Sometimes we need a therapist or a psychiatrist or other mental health professionals because our mental health struggle is complex enough that someone with some special training and skills can help us in ways other people can’t. And sometimes we need a therapist or we need the behavioral health hotline or Samaritans hotline or the national 988 suicide and crisis hotline because we feel we’re too much for our friends, or they’re having a hard time still showing up.

And in this case, it’s not only a therapist that can keep bearing witness. Sometimes it can be a pastor, a family member, again a kind person on the other end of a hotline, or a different friend.

I mean Job’s friends turn truly terrible. When all this ends, I don’t know if they’re ever getting invited to the barbeque again. But just because a friend lets us down in one way, doesn’t mean they aren’t a friend worth keeping in other ways. 

It takes a village to raise a child, they say. But it takes a village to love a human too. So we all need our villages. Our people, our communities. And when there’s a gap in that community, sometimes a professional resource like a therapist, or like a support group, or like a helpline, can fill the gap. Some of those kinds of resources will be out in the dome for us. 

This has become more of a sermon about grief than mental health per se. And we’re nearing the end here. But I just want to acknowledge that there are a lot of reasons that we or those we love may end up needing the support of mental health professionals. Or that we might need to apply mental wellness strategies in our lives that mental health professionals have taught us. 

Job didn’t have the benefit of a therapist or the wisdom of any mental health professionals. That field didn’t exist back then. But it does now. And I’m speaking to you as a pastor who’s worked with a therapist most of the past seven years and pays a lot of attention to the writing and wisdom of mental health professionals, including those that integrate their work with Christian spirituality.

So let me close with a few words of gratitude to this field, with a few other things I’ve learned about spiritual and mental wellness from our mental health professionals. 

I’ve learned that suffering happens. We will grieve loss in these lives of ours. Many of us at one time or another have struggled or will struggle with trauma. Some of us face long-term, significant mental health challenges, and many of us have faced or will face them for a season.

These are not signs that we are broken or that we’ve done anything wrong. These are not signs that God isn’t loving us, or that God isn’t good, or that God isn’t here. And all this goes for when our kids or our other spouse or our other loved ones face these troubles. 

I learned that as with Job, everyone needs a compassionate companion. Someone or someones who listen and bear witness. And when we can, we need to be those people for each other too. 

I learned that the work happens not just in our minds but in our bodies. I mean geesh, when things get weird, Job’s friends sit there and argue with him. They could have just cooked together or gone out for a walk or something. Just as our so-called mental health can show up as challenges in the rest of our body, same the other way. Finding peace and well-being in our body can have an impact on our mental well-being too. Our spiritual well-being also, but that’s another talk.

I’ve learned that when you reckon with trauma and grief and mental health struggle, you get more comfortable with ambiguity. You learn that two things can be true at once. You can resent part of what someone has been to you, while appreciating other parts. You can have grief and gratitude at the same time. You can shed tears, and they’re sad tears or happy tears, because they’re both of those at once. 

And I’ve learned that unlike in Job, happy endings aren’t guaranteed. But whatever help we can get and whatever work we can do on our mental health and wellness is worth it. Sometimes this means we’ll be able to stay alive, and that’s such a good thing. Sometimes it means we can keep moving forward, knowing we’re not alone, and hanging in there. And that’s a good thing too. And sometimes it means that we find miracles of recovery, miracles of turn-around in our lives.

With the help of God and friends, these are more common than we think too. And that’s pretty great. And it’s worth hanging on for, worth fighting for, worth getting the help. We’re all worth it. And we’re all in this together.