Although we serve a God who gave us two ears, far too many of us think the mouth and tongue must be used to serve Him better. I know I am guilty of this thought, but I wonder how many others think that our mouths are there to give Him His marching orders or instructions? Along those same lines, we seem uncomfortable when facing the mourning silences such as what many encountered after the shootings in Connecticut. And so, trying to be helpful, we tend to say things we should not. Sure, we mean well, but please pay attention to what you say in times such as this to people in shock or mooring. Please pray to God to give you the words before they are ever uttered. But please, please, please, never ever ever let the following words come out of your mouth when trying to explain away a tragedy. It is far better to sit in silence than to utter these:
(1) God needed another angel/s. What kind of god kills people or children willy-nilly to make sure he has enough angles hanging around? That is certainly not the message of the Gospel. Like the angels, we are created. Unlike the angels, though, we can be redeemed! His promise is that when we rise in glory, we will be greater than the angels. I confess, I don't fully understand it, nor do I expect that I will this side of the kingdom of God. But nowhere in Scripture are we taught that we die to be reincarnated as angels. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that, sometimes, God is short a few angels or humans or any other part of creation, so He needs to reshuffle the deck. And, if you think we are being hypersensitive to this ridiculous statement, consider it from a child's perspective. Do you think any child who has heard the statement this week is comforted by these words? Or do you think, rather, that children live in fear that another loved one will be snatched by God because He is short another angel today?
(2) God willed this. It is part of His plan. Sometimes I find myself nearly as enraged by this idiocy as the idiocy of number 1. God will that we would live in the garden of Eden in full communion with Him forever. He did not wish for us to die. He did not wish for us to suffer. He did not will for us to weed, for women to suffer during childbirth, for us to suffer mental illness, for us to lack any need. God only willed good things for us. We did, however, choose to reject Him. Now we live in a world beset by sin. Natural disasters and evil both give evidence to that claim, as does Jesus crying over the death of Lazarus and His lament over Jerusalem's refusal of His love and care. God can overcome any evil in our life, even death. He does not, however, will tragedies like this. He does allows them to occur (part of the consequence of free will), but He does not inspire them or cause them to be committed.
(3) It's for the best. He/She/They is/are not suffering any more. Again, death is never for the best. God did not intend death. He can and will overcome it in the life of His believers, but death is never for the best. Loved ones will feel the loss acutely. Acknowledge it, in silence in necessary. But never tell them it is for the best.
(4) Well, at least you can/have another child / are young enough to find someone else / etc. At times this makes its way up my personal peeve list, but I understand my sensitivity to the issue. I heard people say aloud that my classmates who had lost children were young enough to try again/have more, as if all the parents care about are the numbers and not the kids themselves. But I am often shocked at how often it proceeds out of the mouth of "Christians" when they "comfort" a woman who has miscarried. God knew us before He formed us in the womb. He knows the hairs of our heads. We have infinite value in His eyes and are not interchangeable, just as our children are in our own. Let's think before we speak. Our Lord knows the pain of losing a Son unjustly. Again, acknowledge the loss. Sit in silence or cry with those grieving, admit you don't understand how such a tragedy can be redeemed, but never ever suggest that their loved one can be replaced by another.
(5) God never gives you more than you can handle. Really? Have you ever dealt with people suffering from depression or recovering from suicide or other addictions? Lots of people get way more than they feel they can handle. Such things are often the reason that individuals turn to such things to block the pain. It is true that God does not intend evil; and it is also true that He will give us grace to bear suffering in His name and glory. Attacks such as experienced in Connecticut or that men and women see in war or families see in certain neighborhoods in our inner cities or that those enslaved are forced to live with are often more than any human being should ever have to see or experience. In many cases, such experiences cause all kinds of mental illnesses because we were not meant to see or experience them. Many events can threaten to overwhelm us. Those who cling to the death and resurrection of Christ know He has the power to see them through any tragedy, even through death. But these evils are not given by Him (if we who are evil know how to give good things, then how much more does your Father in heaven), nor is He unaware of the pain experienced by those who suffer.
(6) Don't be angry at or blame God for this. I suppose we think we are protecting either the individual or God when we say such things to people who have suffered a tragedy. Anger is a natural part of the grieving process. Better still, God gave us psalms of imprecation for use in worship, as well as other examples and stories such as Job or Lamentations. He expects us to be angry. He expects us to lash out. And He has given us the language to do that with Him, at least for a time. If we worship a God who can do anything, as we claim, there is nothing wrong with being angry that God has withheld His power/grace/etc from a particular situation, at least from our perspective. Over time, the mourner will comforted by the fact that a loved one is with the Lord and so will be seen again one day, and a follower of Christ will, hopefully, come to the understanding that God's ways are not our ways. He gives and He takes away, still He is blessed. We simply learn over time and over our walk with Him that He intends good for us in all things and that He can and does redeem the evil things in our life.
(7) I don't think I could . . . Several people at the Putnam and in the parish lamented that they did not think they could attack the gunman in Connecticut like the principal, or protect students like one of the teachers. They are judging themselves on how they think they would act and feeling guilty. One, those who claim the cross have no need to feel guilt. We are called to repent of our sins, but He forgets the sins the moment we repent. Two, do not judge how you think you would behave in a particular situation. Wait until the event happens, if it ever unfortunately does, then judge your actions. Failures and successes can teach us a great deal about ourselves. Our actions in times of emergencies can testify to our love of the Lord and our faith in Him, but those actions are usually inspired by the Holy Spirit in times of need. My guess is, if you were placed in some horrific situation and knew the likely outcome was your death, you would face it bravely, with grace, and with an eye to helping others. That is the DNA of your Spirit in Christ in St. Alban's. And Christians often report moments of clarity, like time itself slows, in such emergencies. Is the clarity and inspiration to action from within, or is it bestowed as a gift of the Holy Spirit in times of emergency? Be wise and do everything you can to avoid such situations, but do not fear their occurrence. After all, nothing can separate you from His love!
As always, if you can think of an irritating statement that caused you to turn away from God in times of need, feel free to share it. Maybe we can become better comforters of those suffering in our midst.