Grief: The No-God Zone

8:30 AM

Stumbled across another article the other day cautioning Christians against using the "God has a plan" line when a fellow believer goes through a time of intense suffering. Such a period of grief is no place for trite sayings about God's sovereignty and providence. Best to say "I don't know why this happened" and leave God out of it, lest the mention of God pull a trigger in the mourner and result in a flood of angry outbursts. Perhaps, if the goal is to not agitate the mourner (or respond truthfully), said approach might work.

Meanwhile, let's lament together how rare it is that a Christian clings to God during suffering. Now the standard response is anger and disbelief: "How could He? How dare He?" And that's okay, we're told. God understands.

Of course, God's grace and comfort stretches out even to those who kick against the goads. He understands intense suffering. He understands grief. He understands pain and wanting it to go away forever.

At the same time, this new development of leaving God out when encouraging Christians going through great loss, of viewing truths about His sovereign plan as "trite," unhelpful, and inflammatory, is troubling and counterproductive.

It's troubling because once upon a time, the faithful experienced daily, horrendous persecution for their faith -- and they blessed the name of Jesus for it. They rejoiced in their suffering. They rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Or if they suffered for other causes, like sin or just a sin-filled world, they repented or clung to God's grace and plan, respectively. I think of Job who experience excruciating physical, spiritual, material, and emotional suffering -- yet he praised God anyway. And God's response when Job questioned why? "I'm God. You're not."

Ouch? Yet that, in the end, is the truth that will set us free from suffering -- the truth that we are not God, that our temporary life is not all there is, that God is at the helm with a loving plan for us. It's the ultimate way to learn to love Him and glorify Him for who He is, and not just for what He gives us.

Plus, during intense pain, where else can a sufferer go? To you, the comforter, who cannot be there when grief overcomes in the middle of the night? To another human being who might be equally in pain? To an "I don't know why this happened"?

We do know why things happen -- because God allows it for our good. We don't need to dissect suffering and point fingers of blame, like Job's friends. We merely need to acknowledge that this suffering is not for nothing.

It is a sign of spiritual immaturity to lash out against God or push Him away during suffering, to not rejoice in our afflictions, to lose hope in Christ. Not that our job becomes shoving these truths down the throat of a sufferer who is angry with God -- we still offer grace, love, and support and go silent on Biblical truths until the person calms down. We need to know this for when we suffer -- for we will suffer at one point. We need to develop the spiritual maturity to bless the name of the Lord during hardship and the wisdom to run to Him alone for comfort when nights are darkest.

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5 impressions

  1. Ah, so good! Bailey, thank you for this. You really are an encouragement, and your posts often call me higher.

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  2. From personal experience, I know that we all, at times, need to be encouraged that God makes all things beautiful in his time.

    Thank you, for this post.

    -Daniel Abbott

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  3. I don't think it is a good idea to say, "God has a plan" to someone who is suffering, but not because it is trite and certainly not because God should not be mentioned at all. This particular phrase shouldn't be used because it does not work as comfort. No matter how spiritually mature a Christian is, in a time of extreme grief, these words are not comforting. They simply do not elicit a positive response in a human being in pain.

    Mrs. Parunak over on Pursuing Titus 2 did a great post some time ago on what not to say to someone who is suffering: http://pursuingtitus2.com/2010/04/16/what-not-to-say/

    This particular phrase is the last one she mentions and I love how she puts her argument, so I hope it is ok if I quote her here:

    "I’m trying not to say, God has a plan.
    This one, while true, hurts like crazy. It is exactly the same as saying, “You know all that pain you’re feeling right now? God did that to you. Don’t you just love Him?” Sure, the person who is actually suffering can give glory to God by saying with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15), but as an outsider’s comfort, this is not the information about God that hurting people need. Imagine a mother bringing her child in to the pediatrician for an immunization. The child is crying because the shot hurt, and someone says, “Don’t cry, Sweetie. Your Mommy had a plan for you to get a shot.” How is that supposed to help? It would be a whole lot better to say, “Give your Mommy a big hug and ask her to kiss it and make it better.” Yes, God is Sovereign in the universe. Yes, He does what He pleases. But He is also the One Who comforts the brokenhearted, and that is the part that hurting people need to hear.

    Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. –Hosea 6:1
    So, instead, I’m trying to learn to say, “I’m praying for you every day that the Lord will comfort you.” "

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  4. Hi, Adele!

    This a good perspective, and I'm glad you brought this up! But I still disagree...kind of.

    I don't deny that "God has a plan" isn't very often comforting (though I and others personally have found great encouragement in being reminded that God is in control) -- but I'm arguing that it SHOULD BE, and that we need to train OURSELVES (not shove it down others' throats during a crisis) to find comfort in that truth.

    The "mommy has a plan" thing doesn't work on children because their reasoning is immature. They cannot see beyond the pain of the moment and cling to any hope or promise beyond that. And I'm saying we Christians (we ourselves personally, again not shoving it down people's throats during their pain) need to move beyond this immature thinking.

    If a teenager is getting a shot and questioning it and experiencing fear, he should be able to know that this suffering will produce a greater good in the end and be comforted by that. Knowing consequences is part of maturity. It's the same for spiritual maturity: we need to move beyond rejecting comfort in God's plan to clinging to hope through faith and counting this present suffering as "momentary infliction" in light of the "weight of glory" we will receive.

    From personal experience, I've appreciated tender concern coupled with solid Biblical truth. The greatest thing someone ever said to me in the midst of pain was, "Bailey, it's going to be okay. It's really going to be okay." And because of God's plan, that's true.

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  5. Yes. Thank you for this. A lot of people, myself included, really need to read this and apply it.

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