There are many kinds of death – the death of a loved one or friend, the death of a job or career, the death of a relationship, the death of hope or a dream. One way or another we are talking about a loss and the person experiencing the loss feels as if God should have answered the need differently. One question leads to other questions. Is God good? Is God powerful? Does God even answer prayer? We may even question the existence of God. Life is full of questions, especially in times of uncertainty and loss.
Volumes have been written on the theology of pain and suffering. How do we help our friends who are hurting? First understand that being present doesn’t mean that you have to offer words. The ministry of presence is a powerful force that God works through us when we are willing to simply be there in the pain. We don’t have to offer advice or explain God’s ways which are beyond even our own ability to comprehend much less expound upon. God chastised Job’s three friends for the lengthy rhetoric they offered in trying to explain to Job why all the bad things had happened in his life. The one thing that they did do right is seen in Job chapter two. They did mourn and weep with Job and of great importance they were simply present. Verse 2:13 says, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.” They were commended by God for their presence and their silence. It was only when they opened their mouths that they stepped into trouble and incurred the anger of God.
Many times, well-meaning individuals in an effort to help will quote Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is a powerful verse, but one that for most can only be understood in hindsight, months, or years after experiencing loss. This verse is not saying that the death of a child, the diagnoses of cancer, or the dissolution of a marriage is a good thing. Leading with this verse can feel like scalding water on a heart that is broken. When we use the Word to comfort, we must do so as a skilled surgeon would use a scalpel rather than as a prisoner with a shank that can do great harm. A better verse from Romans might be 12:15, “Mourn with those who mourn.” The idea is that sometimes rather than preaching a sermon at people that are hurting it is better to be the verse – be the sermon. Proverbs 10:19 offers a practical rule of thumb. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
So, the first step in ministering to those let down by God is to simply be present. Don’t run away, be with them in the pain. Do not feel that you must answer the great questions of life. Job came to this conclusion when he attempted to question God and then God turned the table and questioned him. Being present and weeping with those who weep, validates the pain and God can use this to bring comfort that words are most often incapable of doing.
Another step you can take is to pray for your friend that is hurting and pray with them if they will allow you that opportunity. Pray for a peace that passes understanding, and comfort in the storm. Pray for their spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical strength. You do not have to pray long prayers. Brief heartfelt prayers in tears are a powerful tool that has incredible ability to open hearts to great truth that even in the pain God is with us – when we are disappointed God is near.
Ministry to those who are hurting is not about being the answer man or woman. It is about being a gentle light in the darkness, which allows the hurt to be seen and the pain to be real. Light has a way of showing us what is there, and it is also the very thing that shows us the path that will eventually move us out of the darkness. The darkness is not the destination, the pain is not the end. It is a place in time. The light moves us forward. Be the light!