Three Wrong Ways To Respond To Suffering

Job’s comforters are busy these days. I’m sure you’ve seen them. Somewhere in your Facebook feed, on the “interwebs” or on TV, they are working overtime, delivering, with a smile, their consolation laced with condemnation to those in the midst of tragedy.

The story of Job tells us of a man who suffered unimaginable pain and loss. He went from great wealth to the depths of sickness, poverty and despair. Through all this, his three ‘friends’ insisted that his misfortunes were God’s punishment for his sins, something he had done wrong. But Job persisted in his belief that misfortune comes to both the godly and the wicked. He was convinced of the goodness, mystery and wonder of God, even in the midst of his pain.

The dictionary describes a Job’s comforter as someone whounwittingly or maliciously depresses or discourages someone while attempting to be consoling.”

You know, that person who seems to be saying the right thing, the spiritual thing, even the true thing, all while making you, or those they’re meant to comfort, feel worse.

Job Rebuked by His Friends – William Blake (1757–1827)


Instead of mending wounds, Job’s comforters poke their fingers deep into those wounds, inflicting pain instead of bringing healing.

We must NOT use times of tragedy to make a theological point.

We should never use someone else’s pain as a battering ram for our beliefs.

  • While it is certainly a fact that a house can be rebuilt, it is too soon to utter those words to someone standing in the rubble.
  • It is true that the sun will rise tomorrow, but for the one caught in a desperate midnight of the soul, that fact brings little comfort.
  • Perhaps time does heal all wounds, but spouting slogans to someone in pain, only serves to delay the healing.
  • Maybe those parents, grieving the loss of a child do have other children remaining but offering such trite comfort only reinforces the fact that we have grossly miscalculated the depth of their loss.
  • God can and does heal, but for the person trapped in a broken body or consumed with chronic pain, these words may sound more cruel than hopeful.

So how should we respond?

Number 1 – don’t ignore the suffering of others. When we are suffering and the world spins around us with no acknowledgment of our pain, the loneliness is soul-crushing. Let the suffering know they are seen.

Number 2 – don’t glorify pain. Yes, God can use our pain for a greater purpose – in our lives and the lives of others. But remember how Jesus responded when he heard his friend Lazarus had died? He simply wept. We should do the same when faced with pain, grief and loss.

Number 3 – don’t weaponize someone’s grief against them. For the love of God, don’t imagine you know whether or not they should be grieving, whether or not their level of grief is appropriate, whether or not they have unconfessed sin in their life. Unless you’re God, or their therapist, it’s not your place to figure that out.

Let’s save our theological debates for the classroom, the discussion group, the one-on-one conversations. They are not welcome, helpful or kind during a time of tragedy.

So, what can we do in response to suffering? It’s so simple, it’s almost ridiculous.


Weep with those who weep.

Lament with those who lament.

Scream with those who must scream.

Walk with those who are restless.

Eat with those who need food.

Pray with those who desire comfort.

Touch those who need to connect.


Be still with those who are silent.

Offer the simple, powerful gift of your presence and God’s presence in you, to bring healing and hope to a broken and wounded world.



Hey, I would love to have you join my private Facebook group “Pain-A Conversation.” Beginning September 25, 2017, I will be sharing a daily video conversation on the subject of pain, with my good friend Sanejo Leonard. We would love to have you join the conversation. Click here to join.

Thank you to Kelly M. Kapic for his insightful and compassionate book “Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering

Life With Pain – Grief and Lament

Earlier this week I wrote a post about my life with pain – a lamentation for what I lost. Today, I planned on posting a follow-up with “What I Found”. But I can’t go there yet.

The response to my lament was overwhelming. So many of you, like me, have an unmet need to grieve. We have been raised in a culture that doesn’t know how to lament. I would argue that, in the church, we have treated grief and pain as evidence of a lack of faith or, even worse, evidence of sin. What a lie.

Lament isn’t pretty.

It brings to mind wailing widows clothed in black and blotchy, red eyes and runny noses. It brings to mind a man, bloodied and beaten, hanging on a cross.

The image of the suffering Christ on the cross was always associated with the Catholic church, in my mind. Growing up in the Evangelical community, we were encouraged not to focus on the bleeding Christ but on the empty cross, the risen Christ, the empty tomb.

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We miss something when we jump past Christ’s suffering to resurrection day.

We miss the true depth of Christ’s humanity. We miss the fact that he knew pain like us. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. He cried, bled, suffered and mourned, just like us.

There is sweet comfort in the crucified Christ, in the fellowship of his sufferings, in knowing he “keeps track of all our sorrows. He collects all our tears in a bottle. He has recorded each one in his book.” (Psalm 56:8)

So, let’s stay in this place of lament a little longer, pause in this sweet holy space where we acknowledge our pain and our fears and present them to the One who bore them all.

Today, my dear friend, I grieve with you.

I grieve for your pain and suffering. I lament for your loss, for what death has taken from you. I weep for the marriage that has ended, for the betrayal of trust, for the child who has wandered away, for the dream that remains unfulfilled.

If this speaks to your heart, please take time to name and acknowledge your lament and present it to your heavenly Father. He can handle your anger, your questions and your pain. Be still. Feel His presence. Tell Him your story.

And, when you feel overcome with doubt and fear, stubbornly cling to what remains of your faith. You will find Him there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.



Mourn With Those Who Mourn

How do we make sense of madness when there is no logic to be found in the acts of a madman?



Once again, the world has been rocked by news of a mass shooting. Images and stories of the terror-filled night in Orlando fill our TV screens.

At times like this, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Hate and fear and death appear to be gaining the upper hand. We can’t make sense of anything and we hardly know what to say, or what to think, or what to do.

May I suggest, that perhaps we can do this.


We can stop the gun debate long enough to clean the blood from the ground.

We can quit posturing and arguing long enough for loved ones to plan a funeral.

We can offer condolences and prayers without pointing fingers.

We can put aside our hatred of one another long enough to bury the dead.

We can silence the debate and rhetoric for just one day.

We can pause to honor each life lost with a breath, a prayer, a tear.

We can stand with the LGBTQ community while they mourn.


If this was my child whose blood had been shed, if this was your friend whose life was cut short, we could not bear to hear anything other than words of love and comfort at such a time. Anything other than the tenderest of voices would crush our spirit even further.

So, to the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the friends and spouses and lovers who have suffered the deepest of losses, we extend our hands in comfort, our hearts in love and our voices in prayer. May you find comfort where none can be found.