The Puritans were fond of calling pastors “physicians of the soul.” JI Packer explains:
A physician’s business is to check, restore, and maintain the health of those who commit themselves to his care. In the same way, the minister should get to know the people in his church and encourage them to consult him as their soul-doctor. If there is any kind of spiritual problem, uncertainty, bewilderment, or distress, they are to go to the minister and tell him, and the minister needs to know enough to give them health-giving advice. That’s the Puritan ideal.
Just as a physician must know physiology, the Christian minister must know what spiritual health is. It’s pure knowledge of the will of God, the true gospel of God. It’s regular praise and regular prayer. It’s acceptance of responsibility in the family, in the church, and in the larger community where you do business. That’s spiritual health. And falling short of that calls for intervention, rebuke, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
I’ve always found the picture of a physician-pastor to be helpful, especially because Jesus used it of himself when he told us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lk. 5:31-32)
All of this is why Job’s comment to his friends in Job 13:4 hit home during my morning reading: “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all.” Ouch. After all, Eliphaz, Bildad & Zophar (otherwise know as Eli, Billy & Zo) had cashed in their vacation days to come to Job’s side when his life crashed in every possible way. So how did their help become worthless? How did these erstwhile soul physicians fail? What can those of us called to care for souls learn? Here’s a beginning list of what I learn from E, B & Z about becoming worthless physicians (please add your own observations):
Worthless physicians don’t listen to the heart In the tennis match between Job and his sorry-doctors, Job repeatedly and passionately lays his heart out for all to see: “oh that my vexation were weighed…I loathe my life…Why did you bring me out of the womb?…I am a laughingstock to my friends.” Though they began well (2:12), weeping and lamenting alongside their friend, EB&Z quickly closed their ears to Job’s heart pain. It is surprisingly easy to suffer the same switch, to begin with great sympathy and tears and then somehow turn those off when we’re ready to get down to business. Rather, worthy physicians ought to keep ears tuned to the heart, even when dealing with matters of action.
Worthless physicians are simplistic theologians How would you react if your doctor began surgery with only one tool? Every pastor knows the danger of young men learning just a little bit of theology. To be sure, learning theology is great–but to do it well takes serious study and a contingent growth in wisdom. Without that wisdom, these mini-theologians need to be locked up, because nothing does more damage than a little theology. No one locked up EB&Z, so their one piece of theology (“God is just, so you deserve whatever you’re getting”) runs havoc all over Job. No nuance, no other pieces of good theology (like “God’s ways are higher than ours”). And so it happens in ministry–either we get one idea in our head to the exclusion of all others, or our weakness in learning prevents us from using theology to heal. Rather than being surgeons with a myriad of tools, we just stab and stab and wonder why it isn’t working.
Worthless physicians don’t reason; they just argue louder One of the fascinating things the book of Job reveals when the reader takes large portions in one sitting is the complete lack of deep thinking and reasoning by Job’s friends. Rather than wondering “Why isn’t our counsel to Job working? Why isn’t he being comforted?”, rather than allowing the humility to admit they might be wrong, that they might have the wrong diagnosis, they dig in. They get more and more belligerent, finally accusing Job outright of causing his own problems. Consider again whether you would continue to visit a doctor who insists on his diagnosis of your problem, even after the medicine and the x-rays reveal something else. And so it goes with worthless soul-physicians who never bend, never reconsider their ideas or diagnoses.
What else would you add?
May God make us, especially those called to care for souls, worthy physicians! May God save us from ever having to hear, “How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?” (21:34)