I got my alumni magazine in the mail the other day and was pleased to find within a piece from Dr. Karen E. Mason on what to do and what not to do when seeking to console someone who has been stuck with tragedy in one form or another.
The article is in two halves. In the first half, Dr. Mason lays out several platitudes that well-meaning Christians and even pastors trod out in an effort to help the grieving. Though we often say these sorts of things in an attempt to be helpful, these sayings typically do even more damage. Perhaps you’ve heard these before.
- It must have been God’s will. God is in control.
- Don’t feel bad. God will work it all out for good.
- God wanted your stillborn baby more than you did.
- I know how you feel.
- You have to get over this and get on with your life.
- Be strong. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.
- It’s not so bad.
- Take your troubles to God. He will make it better.
While there may be some elements of truth in each of these, they rarely actually bring comfort to those in hardship.
Instead, Dr. Mason offers several helpful tips for counseling the bereaved, like allowing someone to grieve, to enter someone’s mourning with them, to assist in practicals, to simply listen, and so on.
Finally, Dr. Mason writes, it is important to offer long-term hope for the grieving. What can you offer someone in deep distress over their tragedy? “As Christians, our hope is based in our faithful certainty of who God is. And sometimes we in the community of faith need to hold onto hope in our God for the person who cannot hold onto hope” (21).
Alas, I fear Dr. Mason has not gone far enough in her conclusion. Indeed, we do maintain the faithful hope that God is who He is. But when we are struck with tragedy, which is a certainty for every person at some stage, our hope ought to be that God will actually do something about the terrible things that have happened to us, to our neighbors, to everyone around the world in all place and in all times. The great Christian hope is that in Christ, God has once and for all pronounced the final verdict condemning all evil. The great Christian hope is that all injustices will, in the end, be undone, on earth as it is in heaven.