Before my oldest was born, my wife and I walked through three miscarriages. That was one of the most challenging and painful things to experience. I will never fully understand why God gave us those kids and then let them die.
But that season was incredibly formative. For my marriage. For my parenting. For my theology. Even for my pastoring.
One of the things I learned was that the world’s worst theology surfaces in life’s hardest situations. There’s nothing like pain and tragedy to push terrible theology to the surface, so let’s take a second and look at three terrible things to say in hard times.
“It all happens for a reason.”
I can’t think of a more insensitive thing to tell someone as they’re grieving or going through tragedy. It communcates as empty, and very quickly suggests, “You should be over it, look at the bright side.”
Grieving is important. Questions aren’t bad.
And…what if it didn’t? This gets into a theological nuance and a discussion that doesn’t necessarily happen best in a short blog format, but what if it didn’t happen for a reason?
“Romans 8:28 says it did!” No, it doesn’t. In Romans 8:28, Paul is reminding the church in Rome that God can take any circumstance and redeem it in a way that (look at verse 29) makes that person more in the image of Christ. It doesn’t say, “God loves that they abandoned you and hurt you, so just figure out why.”
Fixing brokenness and redeeming the broken are not the same thing as dictating it.
I won’t get into my perspective on God’s will or God’s sovereignty (other than the fact that he has both of them), but regardless of where you land theologically on those issues, a moment of grief is not a moment of redirection.
Just be there for them.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
I would argue that God routinely gives me more than I can handle. I believe God allows far more than we can handle…because when we have more than we can handle we need someone else to handle it.
Using this statement with someone who is grieving immediately tells them, “Pick yourself up and fix it.” In a moment when they need to be grieving, processing, and seeking, you replace that and fill the gap with shame.
“It’s going to get better, God has a plan for you.”
Jeremiah 29:11, right?
But…what if it doesn’t get better?
What if that person’s life never gets better this side of eternity?
Jeremiah 29:11 is not a promise to us, and it’s not even a promise of a life of prosperity.
Go read Jeremiah 29. God is pronouncing punishment on His people, telling him that their suffering and oppression will be so longstanding that they should set up lives and not assume it will relinquish. Decades of this will ensue…and Jeremiah 29:11 is a reminder that God is not done with his people. Israel, as a communal people, will not be forgotten nor forsaken.
There were Israelites who knew the promise God gave, and their lives did not improve.
We need to be very careful in taking God’s promises to His people in entirely different contexts, removing them from their place in the story, and assuming they apply at surface level to our lives.
Why? Because what happens if that person’s depression doesn’t lift? Has God forsaken them? Does God no longer have a plan for them? Is God turning his back on them? If the “God has a plan for you” interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 has become their foundational truth, they’re in trouble.
We need to be careful with our words and generous with our presence. In hard situations, bad theology may feel good, but that doesn’t mean it does good.
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Austin Walker is a husband, dad, pastor, and college football fanatic who leads a multisite student ministry team in Central Arkansas. He writes about leadership, productivity, team building, coaching, and theology.
If you want to find out more about Austin, listen to sermons, contact him about speaking, or inquire about coaching opportunities, visit www.austinjwalker.com
To see more about his life, follow him on instagram at www.instagram.com/austinjwalker