These past couple of months have been pretty crazy around here. We’ve seen a lot of suffering, brokenness, and devastation in the lives of those around us. Fires have destroyed homes and left many to start over completely. Some have lost loved ones; babies, relatives, friends, all without any warning or reason. Others have been hit with financial burdens that seem almost too big to overcome. Addictions have ruined marriages and families. All of these are vivid reminders that things aren’t as they were intended to be.
If you grew up in the church at all – upon one of these tragedies extending to your immediate family you’ve most likely been inundated with promise upon promise about how God will take care of you, how He’s always there with you, or even how He has a plan for your life even in the midst of this tragedy. When something in someone’s life begins to go wrong these promises come flying out of mouths faster than clay pigeons out of a trap. We drop “promise bombs” all over the pain, hoping to bring comfort to the afflicted and hope to the suffering.
When someone dies; Tell them it’s part of God’s plan, Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
When someone loses their job; tell them about the birds, Matthew 6:26 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
When someone is struggling with just about anything else; tell them God’s always with them, Hebrews 13:5b – “…“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then follow it up with, “I’m praying for you.”
I want to first acknowledge the truth and complete veracity of Scripture. I believe that these passages (though most often taken terribly out of context) are completely true and point us to the reliability, faithfulness and deep love our Father has for us.
With that being said, if you’ve been on the receiving end of any of those “promise bombs” you know that in the midst of pain, they often times ring hauntingly hollow. I believe people genuinely want to say something that’ll help. Most of us simply don’t know what to say. But we feel obliged to say something to fill that awkward void that so often surrounds the pain. But I’d argue, saying something along the lines of the aforementioned is about as helpful as a solitary box fan in the middle of a house with no AC in the middle of a heatwave (useless – not that I speak from experience or anything).
Often we think that pointing people back to the truths of Scripture in the midst of devastation and brokenness is helpful. And, in most ways, it absolutely is. The problem arises when we point back to truth and it’s devoid of any real, tangible love. When that happens, our words often serve more as a catharsis for our own selves than actually providing any semblance of encouragement for those in a place of hurt. And when we speak truth apart from real tangible love we are encapsulating well what Warren Wiersbe says, “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
The two must go together.
You see, rarely can a response make something better; what makes something better is a connection, a relationship. The reason I think that so many times our little words of encouragement ring so hollow is because they come from a place detached from connection and relationship. It’s so much easier for us to simply speak truth from a place of “having it all together” than to step into the hurt with those dealing with it. Walking with people through the hurt is a lot harder than simply offering up a little anecdote. It takes work, it takes risk, it takes being inconvenienced – it takes love.
Jesus was a great example of this, he stepped into those places of pain, walked through it alongside of those suffering. I love John 11, it paints this beautiful picture of death, suffering, and Jesus entering into the pain that was felt by Mary and Martha in the wake of their brother’s death. He felt it with them. He didn’t simply say, “At least you still have your sister,” or “Don’t worry, I work everything out for the good of those who believe in me…” No, he listened, he entered into their pain, and loved them well in it and through it. Jesus’ response was one rooted in connection and relationship.
As we walk with our neighbors, our friends, our family, we are continually reminded at just how hard it is to really love them well and contend for them as Jesus did. But I believe that’s what we’re called to do. Especially as we walk through difficulties and tragedies with them. May our first response to tragedy be one of love, engagement, and walking with those who hurt. It’s when we do that well, that our words of truth have much more power. Truth and love must always go together.