The trite: ‘She’s in a better place” or “It’s part of God’s plan” isn’t just bothersome to an atheist, it’s troubling to a theist as well. At times these sentiments serve not to comfort but rather serve only to keep one from entering into another’s pain or loss. These sentiments may end up simply deflecting another’s pain instead of offering comfort. Certainly as a Christian to remember the Resurrection and the hope of a future glorious reunion with the deceased person is a helpful part of the grieving process but it shouldn’t be offered as a deflection of another’s expression of pain or grief.
Imagine if someone has just shattered his femur and while writhing in tremendous pain with his mind full of anxious thoughts about the physical limitations the broken femur has suddenly imposed on his next couple of months, one says, “Oh, don’t worry! This is really a blessing! The doctor is going to fix you up with an even better titanium femur.” Sure, the thought of an even better femur is a hope but right now this thought doesn’t address the pain of the person who is dealing with: the loss of breaking a femur, the long road to recovery, not being able to work for the next couple of months, and whatever other losses may come from the broken femur. The future fact of an even better femur doesn’t erase the present tragedy. Similarly, I believe the future hope of a glorious resurrection is tremendous but it doesn’t negate the pain one experiences in the loss of a loved one.
I think further that death and grieving with death should teach us that there are some things you can’t fix and that’s okay. There are some pains you can’t take away or alleviate and sometimes the best thing to do is simply sit with another and allow them to share their pain with you. When faced with a grieving friend, one easily feels as if they have to offer their part to immediately take the pain or grief away rather than to simply be with their friend in their pain and grief. I think one sure and certain way to comfort someone is to simply be with them in their grief and to avoid the temptation to try to “fix” the situation by offering just the right words or worse by trying to spin the tragic situation into some sort of “good news.”
In scripture we see that when Jesus encounters others weeping over the loss of a loved one, Jesus responds not by simply offering hopeful sentiments but rather Jesus responds by weeping. Jesus enters into their pain. In short, if Christ wept at the death of his friend Lazarus then I think we owe it to others and to ourselves to grieve our losses and to be there for others when they grieve.
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed* and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”
And Jesus wept.“
JJ’s post, “5 Ways to Comfort an Atheist” inspired me, as a pastor, to follow up with this Christian reflection on comforting someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. As a pastor, I think JJ’s 5 ways to comfort are great ways to comfort not just an atheist but anyone.