One of the most difficult tasks before us is dealing with the pain of others. Nothing brings a person to the door of the church so quickly as suffering and the first questions asked of us, as ambassadors or grace and image bearers of God, is “Why?”
Pain is always hard, even (or perhaps especially) when its not our own. There are no easy answers, and there are no quick solutions. This is a hard truth to accept and even harder to communicate. The best words to say are not always clear but perhaps the worst thing we can do is give a glib or pat answer to a person who is suffering through a pain we are not experiencing. This is complicated still further when the words that we believe to be so full of comfort fail to actually bring comfort.
The trouble is that the scripture truths that give us so much assurance and comfort during times of peace are clogged and clouded by the emotional pain and confusion that comes during an actual trial. You may read a scripture and see that God promises beauty for ashes and joy with the morning. While this promise is true, you have to remember that hope is so much harder to see when you’re actually in the ashes. The tear-filled night is the longest when you’re desperately wishing for the morning.
So what do we do after we’ve read the bible truths and the fire is still raging? Do we just say them all over again? Paul gives us some insight:
“I…beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,” Ephesians 4:2Listen to the characteristics he uses here: lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering, and, above all, bearing with one another in love. If we are to be worthy of the calling of Christ, we absolutely must demonstrate humility, gentleness, and patience to one another in all situations. This concept is mentioned again:
“bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:1How often do we barge into the midst of a trial that is not ours, the weight of which we have not borne, expecting to offer a miracle cure for the pain it brings? We confidently extend the promises of God like a lifeline and are puzzled when the pain continues. Sadly, that horrible impotent feeling we experience as bystanders can lead us to vent our frustrations on the one we were just trying to comfort. “Fine then!” we throw up our hands in defeat, “You refuse to be comforted, so you just sit there and whine about it!”
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 1 Thess 5:4
Oh shame on us for failing to demonstrate lowliness and gentleness! As one who struggles to tame her tongue, I understand how difficult this can be when you know (or think you know) what the bible answer is. But it is so much easier to rattle off a scripture than it is to bear with your brother or sister in the midst of their pain as they experience the truth of that scripture. I believe the truth is not that they refuse be comforted but that we cannot bear the pain so we abandon the situation.
If we are to bear with our brother in love we must also remember that “Love suffers long and is kind…” 1 Corinthians 13:4
We have to remember that we see dimly now, we cannot fully understand the purposes and plans of God in and through suffering. Tossing out scriptures, as if they possess a magical power to dissolve the pain of a difficult situation, is immature and, in truth, lazy. Words don't help the pain, that comfort comes directly from the Spirit of God and we can't control Him and we can't make promises that He'll behave a certain way.
Do speak truth. Do seek the scriptures for hope and promises and extend that hope to the suffering. But we are not given permission to stop there, don't throw out the promises and leave your brother alone in his ashes. Sit with him, weep with him, and watch for the morning together.