Given my discussion of the “why” question in the last few posts, I want to offer a caution to would-be comforters. Here is some advice from a sufferer.
We don’t know what God is doing in a person’s life. We don’t know the reason “this” or “that” happened. We don’t know for certain whether there is a reason or there is no reason. We are neither prophets nor prophetesses. I don’t even understand why I do some of the things I do much less why God does or does not do what he does!
Consequently, do not offer any sort of reason or explanation for the tragedy. This includes such comments as “it will turn out for the best” or “God is trying to teach you something” (and certainly don’t specify what you think God is trying to teach them) or “It could be worse.” These are interpretative statements. They assume more than anyone knows.
To intepret a person’s tragedy is the worst possible and, unfortunately, the most common mistake of would-be comforters. An interpreter is no longer sitting with the hurting but is rather directing the hurting to not hurt or not hurt as badly. When you interpret my tragedy, you no longer sit beside me but you stand over me as some kind of magisterium. This is was the mistake of Job’s friends and so many have made after them.
One sort of interpretative move is tell sufferers how they should feel or how they will feel. Never tell a sufferer what they are feeling, how they should feel and how long the feeling will last or should last. The comforter should only speak of their own feelings. We can tell them how we feel but never how they should feel or do feel. Let the sufferer speak their own feelings, and we should never speak for them.
Sufferers are rarely looking for advice from their comforters. If they need advice, they will ask for it. But it seems like comforters tend to think they have just the right piece of information or direction that will help resolve the inner conflict of the sufferer.
Be a comforter, not an interpreter. Be present with them, listen to them, weep with them, express your love for them, tell them how you feel, and do something for them.
I will now lay aside this prolonged discussion of grief, suffering and pain. It certainly deserves more attention, but I think I need a break. I will take a break for Memorial day and then begin my series on “Stone-Campbell Hermeneutics” (specifically as it applies to Churches of Christ in the 20th century with some background in the 19th century).