Have you ever risked sharing your pain with another person, hoping for a listening ear – and gotten an earful of unsolicited advice instead? Have you ever gone through a tough time, only to have a well-meaning Christian quote, All things work together for good?
It’s pretty obnoxious, and downright unbiblical, the way we tend to respond to the suffering of others. For some reason, we consider it our duty to fix things, to explain what God is up to, and to make sure we put a smile back on our friend’s face.
Is this how God tells us to treat those who are suffering?
The writer of Proverbs says, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” (Please don’t make things worse.)
Paul writes to the Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Go there with them and empathize.)
In other words, let’s lose the pious platitudes and offer humble compassion.
So why do we act like Job’s comforters? Why do we feel compelled to serve up the perfect tidbit of advice, instead of simply offering our loving presence? It’s uncomfortable to stay silent in the face of another’s pain. It’s inconvenient to slow down with them as they grieve. We don’t like the feeling of not being in control.
Newsflash: we AREN’T in control. God is.
Check out Job, the definitive book on suffering. God spends like thirty chapters rebuking the three guys who thought they had airtight theology about Job’s troubles.
Let’s just admit that we are really small and God is really big and there is more mystery to life than we can handle. Let’s be okay with not having all the answers.
And let’s stop making things worse for those who are hurting by trying to force cheer on them.