Many times in my life things have gone sour and I’ve found myself shaking my head wondering “Why me? Why does this stuff always happen to me?” Fortunately, most of these things are small potatoes. I’ve never lost a spouse or a child. I haven’t been maimed by a drunk driver. I’ve not directly experienced that suffering in my life.
Yet I have friends whose wives were stolen by cancer, who were involved in fatal drunk driving accidents, who have seen their children die. Christians ask the inevitable: “Why me? Why has God done this to me?”
Theodicy is the term describing the attempt to answer why God would allow evil things to happen. It’s a complicated argument that delves into the very nature of good and evil, predestination or free will, of whether God created evil or if man did. It makes a person wonder why God doesn’t stop evil if it’s within His power (or, worse, makes people think God causes evil.) It’s an issue that many great minds have wrestled with, but isn’t one that gives much comfort to those who are suffering.
And that’s where the church comes in, right? Where their friends offer great solace and words of wisdom. With phrases like:
Everything happens for a reason.
(Really? You think God killed my wife for a reason?)
God needed them, or, God needed another angel.
(Because God is so needy that he kills children?)
God only gives you as much as you can handle.
(So God gave my mother terminal cancer because I can handle it? Gee, glad I’m not stronger.)
They are in a better place.
(How do you know? What was wrong with were my son was – with me?)
And I don’t want to turn this into one of those lists of things to say or not say, but I know a lot of people who turned away from God, not necessarily because they feel He poured misery on their lives, but because the people they went to church with made them feel horrible by saying these sorts of things to them.
We all feel obligated to fill our mouths with something when people share their suffering with us, but what comes out can be downright awful. And it’s more awkward when you haven’t faced what they are facing. How hypocritical do I feel trying to give comfort to the person who lost their daughter when mine is standing next to me?
Think of how your words would sound to you if the tables were turned before uttering some meaningless platitude. It’s not a difficult thing to do. Listen to what they have to say. Pray for them. Be the part of God’s family that you’re supposed to be and not the stranger who pushes them further from you with insincere words. Keep in mind James 3: 3-8 where he talks speaks of how the bridle controls the horse, how the small rudder guides the large ship, and so it is that our tongues can stain us.