Let me be blunt.
I am so tired of hearing the following statements spoken to hurting, broken and disillusioned people.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- God will work it out for good.
- God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
- He gives and takes away.
- He has a purpose for your pain.
More importantly, I believe the thoughtless, pain-shaming clichés, spoken without the vast theological context each once requires, dishonor a God who defines himself as Love.
After a couple conversations, earlier today, with young people whose torment is unfathomable and whose well-meaning friends have resorted to cloying clichés, I need to say the following:
If you’ve ever been assaulted in a way that feels like it has crippled your future.
If you’ve been shamed, belittled or ostracized so much that you can’t stomach your own reflection.
If you’ve experienced losses that have left a raging emptiness at the core of your existence.
Ignore the well-intended exhortations of people who can’t possibly imagine what you’ve endured and are still trying to survive.
Reject their desperate attempts to portray a core-destroying tragedy as the heartless tactic of a disengaged God.
Renounce the lies that measure your faith by the speed and visibility of your return to spirit health.
Please don’t misunderstand me:
ONLY GOD CAN SOOTHE THE JAGGEDNESS OF PAIN AND SOMEHOW BRING BEAUTY AND HOPE OUT OF THE DEBRIS OF OUR TRAUMA.
But I worry that the thoughtless, bumper-sticker comfort-words of Christians might have sent the message that God is both your tormentor and your comforter. I assure you, he is only the latter.
Here’s the truth about the One who created you for relationship—whose word is filled with vows to love, console and walk with you:
- He did not want parents to neglect their children (even “for the sake of the call”)
- He did not want your relative to die of cancer
- He did not want those men to abuse that little girl
- He did not want that murderer to gun down innocent bystanders
- He did not cause that earthquake to purge that place of its unbelievers
(I hear you cranking up the theological commentary. Please acknowledge that most of us lack the words and knowledge to accurately define what those complex verses about God, pain and trial mean. To avoid misrepresenting him and further harming the hurting, we need to stop trying to articulate them in simplified form — or find the right time and place to convey their full exegetical analysis to people who actually want to hear it.)
If we cannot picture Jesus inflicting that kind of pain on people with his own hands, we need to stop attributing the same actions to his Father. Period.
God does not injure us to teach us to praise him
God does not slaughter us so our families learn to trust him
God does not afflict us with diseases so our deaths can bring glory to his name
God does not enlist despots, murderers, sexual predators or natural disasters to keep us in line and ensure his will is done
ONE MORE THING: GOD DOES NOT CELEBRATE THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT DESTROY US.
(And we need to stop implying that he does.)
He does not rejoice in the atrocities, injustice, barbarity and cataclysms that damage us, and he certainly doesn’t cause them to happen out of some tyrannical, sadistic desire to hear us praise him from the dungeons of our pain.
No sane person could worship such a god.
Sentences like “He works all things for good” are the dangerous (blasphemous?) reflex of lazy believers who don’t realize how inaccurate words can demolish God’s image and the faith of young believers.
Spiritual words matter even more because they have eternal repercussions.
Once we stop trying to define an immeasurable, complex God with grief-assuaging, verbal placebos, we’ll have that much more time left to demonstrate his love to a world that desperately needs it.
And once those who are hurting and disillusioned discover God’s heart, all those things we can neither know nor understand in this realm will matter far less than the healing embrace of their Creator.
So…can we all agree that the clichés do not help, and that offering friendship, conversation, affirmation, comfort, mercy and time may be the best path forward as we seek to embody Jesus to our hurting friends? I’m willing to try it if you are.
Thank you, Michèle, for telling it like it is.
yes. Yes. YES!
Some people will say, “But Scripture DOES say that God works all things together for good to those who are called!”
It is important to realize that context matters when we quote Scripture.
Romans 8:28 was NOT written to console someone who had suffered devastating personal loss; it is thus NOT appropriate to quote it in this way.
And the same applies to other passages.
As far as I can recall the only place in the Bible where situations similar to what Michele describes are directly addressed is in the book of Job; and there the “comforters” are villains, not heroes.
A hug and a listening ear often bring more healing than a sermon or a quote out of context.
I do really like the idea behind this commentary but I also find that having been through abuse and pain that I needed the cliches to hold onto to give me hope of strength from a loving God that would support me when I had nothing left of myself. The words of the cliches of God allowing nothing to touch me that He would not provide me the resources or strength to make it through actually saved my life. Let me say that again in another way – the echo of the words that God will never allow anything to touch me that He will not also supply what is needed to make it through SAVED MY LIFE. As I sat with the gun in my mouth these thoughts made me unable to pull the trigger. Healing and strength look so different for each person. Love and flexibility to allow for those differences is humanly impossible as each of our intentions can and will be twisted and misinterpreted at one point or another in our walk here on earth. Prayer and an openness to God’s nudging looks different every day. I am so thankful for the caring people that God placed in my life. Replaying and judging the words they have said has become immaterial. The knowing of the non-judgmental agape love is what I hold so dear. I am not standing in judgement, just stating the fact the those words planted as a seed in my heart and mind were there when they were needed to bring me through. I am certain that God is not done with me yet! My prayer is that those that need the words will hear them and those that the words are crushing to will be able to look past the syntax and possibly find the hope and love impeded in the broken human from which they expression comes.