I can’t count the number of times people have sought out my counsel in order to get some answers to the questions of life that are troubling them. When a major event comes along in their lives that shakes the foundation of not only their faith, but also their existence…they ask me questions due to my position as a pastor. When this first started occurring, I had some canned, worn-out phrase to use on them. I would say things like, “God works in mysterious ways,” or, “God is in control,” or the favorite, “This is all a part of His plan.” As I would say such things and look them in the eyes…I could see the absence of hope…the presence of total confusion…and the reality of rage. As those words rolled off my tongue, their countenance changed…hardened…and their belief in a God that loves them wavered.
One time I was in a hospital room with a family of an older woman. They had just had a visit from another Christian leader right before I arrived. The lady in the bed was in great pain due to an unfortunate accident and the other leader did what I would have so often done…he gave a platitude. He said, “God had a purpose in this happening, sister so-and-so.” He then left, and then I arrived, and they were angry…hurt…confused…and wanting some kind of answer. They asked me if I thought that God caused this event to happen. I don’t know if I’d ever felt that tense in my life. I felt like I had to have the right answer, lest I would cause these people to fall away in their faith…then it hit me…the reality of what was really happening here…and moreover, how Christians typically respond. They didn’t need anyone to give them a theological response. They didn’t need empty words of false comfort. They just needed someone to connect with them in honesty, humanity, and humility. Those are not my strong suits, but by God’s grace, I responded with the only answer that would come to mind. I said, “In total honesty, I just really don’t know. There are lots of opinions about all of that kind of stuff among Bible scholars…but I don’t think any of that will help you right now. I just don’t know. What I do know is that God does love us…even when it feels like He’s not with us. God does know what’s going on in our hearts and minds…but what he chooses to do with that information…I don’t really have an answer for.” The room went from tense and angry to somewhat relaxed…and then I remember asking myself what had just happened…because there was no way that kind of wisdom had just come from my lips. We then began to just talk, fellowship, and support one another…not having the answers…just being there…listening…loving…supporting.
Christians are full of trite platitudes…worn out sayings…one-liners. “Let go and let God,” and the like. The truth of most of these sayings is pretty much indisputable, but we use them so often that they have lost their meaning to us. I think we have good intentions. I think that we want to help…but I think there’s something much deeper involved in our usage of such phrases. Perhaps we feel as though we must defend God when others are questioning His existence or care in their lives. I don’t know where we get the idea that God needs our help…or a defense of any kind…but we truly act as thought that is the case. If someone comes to me and says they are having a hard time believing in God any more…it’s not my job to try to make sure they don’t leave the faith. Jesus made comments about How he would keep His own (John 6:39). I believe what people need instead is simply our caring presence. They need to know that we are compassionately involved with them in that very moment and that we are listening. More often than not…we don’t need to say anything. We simply need to listen, look them in the eyes…hurt with them…hug them…walk with them through a very real human experience for which we truly have no satisfactory answers. We need to drop the fear of failure in regard to this person losing their faith…because that responsibility is not on our shoulders. If God depends on me to defend His will and ways to individuals, then we are in trouble and have a lesser God than we realize…but He doesn’t. Our God doesn’t need our help. His people need each other…not for answers necessarily…nor for “fixes.” We need each other for love and companionship…and we also need to know that when we have doubts…we’re not alone in them.
The truth is this: there is so much about God that I just don’t get. I don’t understand why He has chosen to act in the way that He has. I don’t understand why He is allowing things in this world to be as they are. I don’t understand why life has to hurt so much. I just don’t know. And that’s ok. My relationship with Him is not based on my being able to explain or defend Him. My relationship with Him is based on my trusting Him…even when it doesn’t feel like I can…or even when it seems like I can’t. If we’re all honest…we can all agree that this is how we feel, at least sometimes.
The world needs to hear us say, “I don’t know,” as we lean in, cry with them, love them, hug them, and refuse to try and explain away the soul-smashing, heart-wrenching garbage that comes our way. They need us to be real…not canned…not trite…not clever. People need our shoulders…not our wit. They need our hearts…not our knowledge. They need our arms…not our tongues. In short they need US…and many times they simply need to hear that we have the same questions…and dare I say doubts…that they have. They need to see that it’s okay to have doubts, questions and even anger without us trying to “fix” them. In this lack of explanation and/or defense…they may just find the answers…they may just find the truth.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
~1 John 4:11