I’m sorry if this offends you, makes you uncomfortable or leads you to believe that I have terrible theology – but I think it’s true.
We just don’t like to admit it or talk about it.
Please understand, I believe whole-heartedly in an almighty and good God, whose love and transformational power can reach into even the most desperate of circumstances and bring healing and hope where there has been pain and despair. There is no situation beyond the touch of Jesus. But we live in the now and not yet of his kingdom and so sometimes, for whatever reasons, our prayers are not answered, the healing does not come and darkness wins.
Yes I know that in the big picture we are on the side of victory, that our hope is in heaven and our loving Father can bring all kinds of redemption from the worst of circumstances – but in the moments of pain and confusion, sitting in the darkness of loss, grief and unanswered questions, what we need most is company rather than cliche.
I recently prayed with someone who had walked through a season in the valley of the shadow of death. After we had finished her main comment was to thank us for not offering a nice Bible verse or supposedly comforting Christian platitude. I’ve been on the receiving end of those myself, and rather than bring comfort or peace, they have left me feeling like a child who’s been given a dismissive pat on the head rather than a warm, healing embrace.
The Bible tells us that we are to “weep with those who weep”, but how often do we actually do that? Allow ourselves to really enter into another’s pain, sit with them in the confusion and keep them company in the darkness? That’s costly and uncomfortable, and perhaps challenges our safe and tidy Christian worldview. We struggle for something to say and dislike the silence, the loose threads – and so rather than feel any of that discomfort we reach instead for our favourite ‘helpful’ verse, like tossing a rubber ring to one who is struggling to stay afloat in stormy seas, and then walk away thinking that our bit is done.
Of course there are times when we need good friends to remind us of Biblical truths that we have lost sight of in the midst of the storm, when we need others to help carry our faith for a time when life has worn us down and waves of despair threaten to overwhelm us. But in my experience, we only win the right to do that in deep relationship and after having sat alongside for a while in the dark.
And so I am ready to accept that we live in a broken, wounded world and, although Jesus has won the war, sometimes the darkness wins the battle. Jesus will bring his hope and transformation when the time is right – my role, when I encounter someone in that place, is to say nothing more than “I’m so sorry. Can I sit with you awhile?”