A few months ago, a mother skidded her car off the highway, wrapping her vehicle around a pole. She died instantly. Her two children in the backseat survived. This happened in my city, so I kept up with the news report. Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading a few online comments.
Comment: “Two wrecks in two days that shouldn’t have had any survivors, where people walked away unharmed. God is great.”
Response: “god is so great that he took away a child’s mother. Praise his glory.”
Which post bothers you the most? For me it’s the first one, the religious comment.
In the religious community, high expectations are placed on how we respond to evil and suffering. There is pressure to put on a confident face, stuff your feelings, and speak the accepted jargon. The popular jargon is often a lie that contradicts scripture. Three lies in particular I hate hearing.
There is a silver lining to our suffering.
Pastor Tim Keller speaks and writes a lot about grief. In his podcast, A Christian Happiness (I highly recommend listening to the entire message), he addresses the silver lining, or consolation price, response:
“Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that! God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad…This is the reason why I have not told stories the way the talk shows do. ‘So and so died. Killed by a drunk driver and so the parents have changed public policy. Drunk drivers are taken off the road. They have saved lives. Their daughter didn’t die in vain.’ That is not a consolation…”
We shouldn’t comfort others with consolations and silver linings. If you’re not the immediate family you have no right to proclaim any kind of goodness in their suffering. Let God be the one to reveal good effects, and allow the immediate family to embrace the revelations in their own time.
God will only give you what you can handle.
This lie is said so often (usually by well meaning individuals) that people actually believe it is scripture. Statistics show that suicide occurs at a similar rate in religious communities as non-religious community. Obviously we are given more than we can handle.
My church recently had a drawing on display of a woman drowning. It is not something you would typically see in a church, but I don’t attend a typical church. People loved it. Why? Because life can sometimes feel like you are drowning. Following God doesn’t give you a free pass from depression, anxiety, accidents or death. Bad things will still happen, and often they will feel like more than you can handle.
The sin in your life caused your suffering.
Yes, actions have consequences, but not all suffering is the result of our choices. In a fallen world, accidents, natural disasters, generational curses, and others evil intentions will cause us suffering. None of these occur because of our personal sins.
“If I called and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice. For he crushes me with a tempest and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not allow me to catch my breath but filled me with bitterness.” Job 9:16-18 (Job - a man of integrity who honored God and turned away from evil, yet lost everything he loved)
“Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body clings to the ground.” Psalm 44: 23-25 (David - who was “a man after God’s own heart,” but was forced into hiding to escape a murderous king)
“From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’” Matthew 27:45-46 (Jesus - God incarnate, who led a blameless life of love and servanthood, yet was executed)
When suffering comes, why do some of us default to un-scriptural advise? It comes down to fear.
We are uncomfortable with other’s pain. Empathy is not a natural emotion for us. Thanks to the internet, our generation is isolated. We no longer live like a village. We are not prepared to sit with others in their mess. Instead we are taught to either avoid pain, or try to fix it and move on.
We want to protect the character of God. If unbelievers see our doubt they will also doubt God. Guess what? They already doubt God. That’s what makes them unbelievers. God doesn’t need us to protect his character. He is bigger than our PR attempts.
We don’t fully understand grace. We struggle living in the freedom the gospel gives us. Deep down we fear our salvation is dependent on our thoughts and actions. We believe God wants perfect, robotic children who always have a smile on their faces, and always have the correct response. We forget that Jacob wrestled with God and was blessed because of it (Genesis 32:22-32).
We don’t want to face our own doubts about God’s goodness. We desperately want to find a reason for others suffering. We want to blame the person, their sin, because it is easier than believing God allowed the suffering to occur. If God allows a good person to suffer, then none of us are safe. We live in a country where most of us are always safe. We’ve forgotten that God never promised us safety. He promises us “the abundant life” (John 10:10), but not by the world’s definition. And he promises us “a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 21:11).
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Is he quite safe?”
“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe