“Everything happens for a reason”.  “God has a plan for everything; He is in control”.  These are the kind of things that many well-intentioned people tend to say to a friend or family member when they are suffering or grieving.  But are they true?  Are these sayings actually Biblical? 

Many people seem to like to find a reason for everything, they like to have the answers to the “why” questions, such as: “Why did this happen to me?” and particularly: “Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  Instead of reaching out to a friend who is suffering to offer wordless comfort and practical help, they sit down to try to make sense of things.  In an effort to “comfort” a grieving friend, they try to help them understand why this terrible thing has happened to them.  It saddens me to say it, but far too often in Christian circles, a grieving family member is told that “God has taken” their loved one, or that somehow all this was part of “His plan”.  But is this how it should be explained?

Is God in control of every detail of our lives?  Many Christians believe that God plans and controls what happens in this world, which leads them to think that when things go wrong that it was somehow part of His plan.  But it’s important to remember that since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, we no longer live in a perfect state under God’s guidance.  However, when they ate the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s sovereignty and chose to live independently.

When Jesus came to earth he was tempted three times by the devil, who finally invited him to “fall down and worship” him, promising: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.(Luke 4:6).

If this had not been true, Jesus, who is truth incarnate, would have replied that the devil couldn’t offer something that wasn’t his.  However, He did not respond in that way, as He knew full well that: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19b).

If we decide to believe the Bible and accept that this world currently lies in the power of Satan, things start to make a lot more sense.  When we watch the news and study history and learn of horrific massacres, child abuse and war, we understand that it isn’t God that causes these things, but Satan, the ruler of this word.

Thankfully, this is not where the story ends. The Bible shows that God will not allow Satan to be “the god of this world” forever (2 Corinthians 4:4a).  After Jesus’ return and after the battle of Armageddon[1], we read in Revelation 20:1-3 that Satan will be seized, bound and thrown into a pit for a thousand years.

Some people believe that since Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection that the devil has been conquered.  It is true that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) and that God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)  We have no doubt that Christ is stronger than the devil and that we don’t need to live in fear of Satan.

However, the spiritual battle is not over.  If the devil had been utterly defeated when Jesus died on the cross and rose again, we would not have to be concerned with putting on “the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11).  Moreover, there would be no need for this warning in 1 Peter 5:8: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Part 2: Consoling others

Often, we repeat things because we have heard others say them and because we think they sound comforting, but we haven’t actually stopped to consider the real impact of these words or if they are in the Bible or not.  For example, many people say to those in pain: “God will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can endure”.  Not only is this is an incorrect quotation of scripture, it can also be deeply hurtful for people to hear who are grieving and sincerely feel that what they’re going through IS more than they can endure.  If we go back to Scripture we will see that the actual text in 1 Corinthians 10:13 reads: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Falling into temptation and being “tested” are very different concepts.  Regarding temptation, we read in James 1:13-15 that When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This has nothing to do with the experience of a person who is grieving after the loss of a loved one for example, or facing an incurable illness.

In certain evangelical circles it’s common to hear people boasting: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!!!”(Philippians 4:13) quoted out of context and with an unnecessary emphasis on the first part of the verse “I can do all things…” without emphasizing the rest of the verse with humility: “through him who strengthens me”.

I think it’s important to read this text in context: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”(Philippians 4:11-13)  If we fail to read it in context, we create false expectations for ourselves and others, assuming that we can become a kind of “superhero” in Christ, capable of anything.

Coming back to our main topic: those who are suffering have no desire to hear a theological explanation or “pep talk” to make them feel better.  They want our company in their grief, to be able to count on us, our empathy and practical help.  The Bible tells us to: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) May God open our hearts to the suffering of others and enable us to cry with those who cry, just as Christ cried bitter tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had died (John 11:35).  When the others saw him, they cried out: “See how he loved him!”[2]  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to show others how much we love them and accompany them in their pain, which is more comforting than any word we could speak.

suffering

[1] Rev 16:14, 16, Rev 19:11-21

[2] John 11:36

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