In all fairness, many are oblivious to the application of words which can prove to be rather hurtful, without realizing it. Are words like, "God is sovereign" or "God has a plan" biblical? Yes. The question then becomes are they the right words for the right time?
In fact it is highly likely you and I have said something like this, not realizing how we could be adding more pain to the one who is suffering. This posting is going to deal with these statements along with a statement that is just plain unbiblical that some folks will say at a funeral. Lastly, I want to attempt to give a solution to help you and I do better in ministering to the suffering from an "apologetic of touch."
Problem Statements Not to Say to the Suffering.
1. "God is sovereign" or "It was God's plan." These two statements are similarly tyrannical. While God is truly all powerful and all knowing, He is also all loving. This is not something that one should say, because in essence, even though it is true it says nothing to encourage the person who is suffering. What do these statements do?
First off they tend to be condescending and lacking in compassion. Remember Job's friends in the midst of his suffering and how condescending they were?
A second thing is that they suggest for one who is suffering that the riddle for suffering is needing to be solved. In other words, God made us suffer because he has something specific in mind and we have to guess what that is. Simply stated, God becomes the "cosmic chess player" and we need to find the right answer soon or else the suffering will continue.
Thirdly, some might get the idea that because one is suffering, they have done something that has unleashed their suffering. While there may be some things that we might do to cause our own suffering, death is not one them. Death is a part of life that we all will have to face. We don't need any false assurances to undercut God's calling for us to trust Him, even during the difficulty.
God is trustworthy and fully aware that we live in a fallen world. In his book, "The Problem of Pain," C. S. Lewis has stated "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." This is NOT to say that the one suffering is not listening to God, and hence they are now suffering for it. Quite the contrary.
Even those who walk faithfully and as constantly as possible are prone to suffering. When we do, it does not mean we blame God, or think that we have caused our own suffering. Our time of suffering should cause us flee to Him for comfort and strive to trust Him, and those He brings to encourage and comfort us during those seasons.
There is a second one that I heard today, in a letter that was read to the family at the funeral. I will sum it up with my second point.
2. "God has received another angel for his army of angelic hosts."
I am really perplexed at the lack of understanding that well meaning believers have about what happens after a believer in Christ dies and goes to be in the presence of the Lord. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what happens. Either that or this a lack of biblical teaching.
Now I understand that this one is in the context of Christians trying to comfort other Christians. But this one is just plain unbiblical, lacking a full understanding of a biblical worldview. Without getting into it here, please see my full treatment of this issue entitled "Do Believers Become Angels After They Die?" In that posting, I address the contemptuous (contemporary) theology behind this error and why it is thoroughly unbiblical in many facets.
So how should we minister to those who are suffering? Can I share with you one idea, what I call "the apologetic of touch"
Expressing Care in our Apologetic through the "Apologetic of Touch"
Last night while attending the calling hours for one friend, I had a chance to visit with the older sons who were there. One of the boys was struggling with anger because of those coming to him and using the first saying(s) I addressed above.
Please understand, that while God does have a plan, and yes, God is not caught by surprise. There may be an appropriate time to share the latter, but the former can wait until the pain is healed over through time. To say that it is God's plan for a loved one's death is not for us to say. . . ever!
So doing the work of an evangelist and an apologist I have thought over the task within the context of ministering to the suffering. Let me share an item that I have in my ministry statement of belief that might give us a guideline. Here it is,
14.d. Living the apologetic life is demonstrated by living out the gospel through not just the proclamation of the message, but a living out of the message by being the hands and feet of the One who gave us that gospel (a.k.a. "through the means of human touch").
What does this mean? What is means is that when we encounter those who are suffering, sometimes the best thing to do, sometime the best "expression" is to just be quiet and be a physical presence for the person. Encouragement goes along way often times through physical presence. Sometimes a hug, or a holding of the hand while praying with the person is all that the person needs at that moment. Sometimes we are called to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15). But when we do weep, or mourn, we do so, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4;13-14).
We know that God is not caught by surprise by the bad things that happen in our lives. That does not eradicate the question of "why" which could arise later. God knows. He could reveal the answer to that question later. Or we may have to understand it better by and by. What He does call us to do is trust Him. Trust is the real definition for our faith toward the hope of the resurrection of Christ and our future resurrection.
Eventually, when the person is ready to talk or even vent their anger, we will have a hearing and possibly ask that person, "what are you thinking about?" That is also the time to let them speak, and then enter into a cordial conversation and seek answers together. Some answers will come. The rest will be trusting in the One who is the answer. . . Jesus the Christ, the One who suffered more than you or I will ever experience.
Thanks for reading this post. If you have any thoughts on this very volatile issue, please email those thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org I will be more than happy to dialogue with you one them.