When Comfort from Christians Hurts More Than It Helps

Several months after my husband died, a friend helped me sort through his belongings. She plowed through his jackets and winter coats at lightning speed while I picked up the last shirt he wore and brought it to my face. It still smelled like him. How could he be gone? Despite my medical knowledge of what happened, why, and when, it still felt like he’d simply vanished. I wiped my tears with his shirt, unaware my friend had seen me. I gave an embarrassed smile.

She dropped the last of the jackets into a box, folded her arms across her chest and looked at me. “What’s God been teaching you through all this?”

I shook my head. What was the right answer? Was she looking for something specific? Some glaring flaw I couldn’t see until now? Would any object lesson soothe my ache? The Lord promises to draw near to the brokenhearted and rescue those crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18). I needed compassion, not a spiritual assessment.

How Did It Become Popular?

I’m not sure how “What’s God been teaching you?” grew to be the thing to ask a sufferer. Perhaps it was in response to The Problem of Pain, where C. S. Lewis wrote:

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

But is God shouting some spiritual insight or is he a gentle Father calling us to himself? In his new book Struck [read TGC’s review], Russ Ramsey writes:

Because the Lord often withholds explanation for our pain, we must not look at suffering as though it is some divine gimmick designed to teach us some important life lesson. That would make too little of the reality. God’s people do not walk through suffering toward the moral of the story. Rather, we walk toward the eternal presence of the Maker and Lover of our souls.

Often in the crucible of pain come no answers save God’s sufficient power made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Perhaps it’s not the question itself that’s ill-advised, but the timing. These concepts are hard to articulate after loss.

What’s God been teaching you? The same question had slipped out of my own mouth when I sought to point an afflicted friend to Christ. But being on the receiving end of the question, particularly at a time when rational thought took profound effort, I had another perspective. It sounded like inquisition.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition