It has been a terrible week on the news. Of course, it is usually a terrible week, but with bushfires in our own state and with terrorism on the agenda in the West it seems worse than normal. Last blog post I tried to help us to consider how best to think through these terrible kinds of things from a Christian perspective. Since I have written that last post I have noticed more and more how the secular world responds to such disasters and tries to comfort those affected. However well-meaning people are, the words of ‘comfort’ that are expressed don’t seem that comforting to me. Let’s think it through a little together.
“I feel really bad about what has happened.”
This one seems to be everywhere. Having some contact with disaster means we want to empathize with those who are hurt. This is of course a good thing. But me feeling bad about what is clearly a bad thing at best just shows my solidarity with those suffering. It doesn’t go anywhere towards help of any kind.
“Our thoughts go out to you.”
Newsreaders and reporters say this kind of thing all the time to wrap up disaster stories they have just recounted. But what does it actually mean? Do my thoughts somehow connect with those suffering and impact them? Again, the best impact this might have is solidarity with those who are suffering, which is nice but not actually helpful.
“I know so-and-so is looking down on us.”
Every public funeral that is not Christian tends to have these words said at some stage. They sound kind of mystical and helpful as people look for comfort in the presence of their departed friend or family member. But of course the one saying the words cannot know that so-and-so is actually present at all, and they continue to live their lives as if death is the end of everything. It is incredible how many people say things like this but have zero interest in exploring if there really is life after death in any kind of real way.
“Our prayers are with you.”
It is somewhat of a nicety to say this in countries like Australia. #prayforparis became a major trending hashtag on Twitter in the hours after the terrorist attacks recently. But who are people praying to? Are they praying at all? In reality, for most people, it means much the same as “my thoughts go out to you”. If prayer does take place most have no idea who they might speak to about it and they don’t believe that this person can actually fix the problems they are praying about.
How might Christians actually bring comfort to those who are crying out? Here’s a few far more helpful suggestions:
- Solidarity can be helpful to a point. Being physically present and crying with someone you know who is suffering is a great thing to do. But saying it in general from a distance as mentioned above doesn’t really help anyone.
- Pray for and/or with the person. For the believer, prayer is speaking to the Creator of the world, the one who can fix things for He has the power to do so. It is not empty words into the air but a personal conversation with a personal God.
- If you promise that you will pray for someone or for a situation, make a note and actually do it. Godly-sounding promises are not prayer; you need to actually pray.
- Pray not just for individuals but for the big picture. Our God controls countries and rulers, not just smaller things. Ask for big things, for an end to terror, for peace in war zones. God can do it if He chooses to.
- If the person is not a Christian, perhaps you will have an opportunity to speak of why you have hope for the future. We believe in a future with no mourning or crying or pain, a place of great comfort, for Jesus is the King.
- If the person is a Christian, remind them of the gospel. God is incredibly kind to us in so many ways, and our present suffering is nothing in the light of the glorious eternity of worshipping the Son. So help your friend to lift their eyes to a bigger perspective; to look back the cross and forward to the last Day when all will be fixed for good.
Our secular world brings little comfort. But our Lord certainly does.