If you have lived through much hardship in this life, you will know the emptiness that is so often present in the words folks use to try to comfort you. Standing by a casket in a funeral home, sitting in a living room after receiving horrible news, watching a tragedy unfold on the national stage, in all such settings, people say things to you that just do not help.
Of course we need to be kind here. People are doing their best. Quite often a person who has no idea what to do with a hard situation feels that he or she must say something, anything, to try to salve your sorrow. And so they try their best. They try to give you something to help you pull through. They want to show you that they care, that they understand, that God is still good. And we need to be gracious with folks who try, even when their efforts leave something to be desired.
Let me give you an example of the emptiest of comforts that a believer might receive. In the middle of hardships, I’ve heard this one. A person is suffering. A person has faced hurt. And a friendly, well-meaning believer tries to assure that suffering saint that God had nothing to do with their hardship.
Have you heard that one? Perhaps have you said that one? Stop and think a step deeper. When you say that God had nothing to do with an ugly event, what are you really saying? Are you saying that God wishes he could have stopped the sad thing, but was powerless to do so? That does not offer comfort. Are you suggesting that God did allow a bad thing to happen, but he washed his hands of it? Are you suggesting that God let a sad thing occur without purpose, without meaning, without anything redemptive in it? That is not comforting in the long run.
To say that God has nothing to do with our dark times is not only empty comfort, it is also unbiblical.
I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
When God was speaking of King Cyrus the Persian through Isaiah’s prophecy, God wanted folks to know of his sovereignty. God was going to bring some great things to pass. God was going to bring some very hard things to pass. And God wanted all who were watching to understand that he, the Lord, always accomplishes his will.
Friends, we do not honor the Lord when we say that God can be responsible for good but that he has no purpose in hardship. WE do not honor the Lord when we depict him as sorrowful over a situation he just wishes he could have changed. We do not honor the Lord when we pretend that bad things happen, and nobody knows why. We honor the Lord, and we comfort one another, when we remember that God is good, that his purposes are perfect, and that is understanding is infinitely beyond our own.
How then do we need to comfort others in pain? I’m not suggesting that, when a person hurts, you go and give them a theological treatise on divine sovereignty and suffering. It is far better for that doctrine to be worked out in your life and theirs before the hardship hits. When they suffer, weep with them. Tell them you care. Tell them that you hurt with them. Tell them that their pain is real and not a thing to pretend does not exist.
But, when you speak to a person in pain, do not tell them something false. Do not paint a dishonest or impotent picture of the Lord. That is the emptiest of comforts. Help believers who suffer know that God is good, even when we have no concept of what he is doing in a particular situation.