When Truth Isn’t Enough

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. – Romans 12:15Grief

 

One of my worst memories ever is of a funeral service I conducted as a young minister. A twenty-something mother contacted our church asking if someone would do a eulogy for her baby, who’d just been violently killed by her boyfriend. The offender was in prison; she had no family, only a few friends, so would we help?

I was assigned, clueless and helpless. Clueless as to what could possibly be said that would be of any comfort during such a horrendous time, and helpless knowing that what I wanted more than anything – the ability to ease this woman’s pain – was beyond me. Never had I felt so useless.

The mother sat in the front row of the funeral home’s chapel, a phantom drowning in misery. Her friends surrounded her, glaring at me. I shuffled over to the woman, pressed her hand and told her we’d begin. The child’s casket was in front of the podium. The smallness of it made it all the more horrible. I tore my eyes away, opened my Bible, read a Psalm, said words, read more verses, then prayed. It felt like we were underwater, every movement slow, every word garbled, everything unreal.

Except for the glares from the mother’s friends. They were real, strong as iron. While the mother was so decimated she couldn’t register emotion, her friends registered plenty, most of it rage. Towards me. I was representing, as a minister, the God who could have prevented this, but didn’t. The One who supposedly loved mother and child, yet allowed this horror. The One who’s supposed to work all things together for good.

“So tell me, Mr. Minister, what good is going to come of this?”

I could see the question on their contemptuous and accusing faces.

You’ve got the answers, Buddy? Well, come on, we’d love to hear ‘em!”

I swear I could almost hear it.

I kept it short, ended in prayer, told the mother I’d be there anytime she wanted me. I think she heard; she muttered something and turned away, ushered off by her glaring friends.

There were truths to be told, but right now they didn’t seem to be enough. Yes, God loved her and her son, but what God allows is often unfathomable to us, and we’re not given answers as to why. God surely was not guilty of the evil that ended her infant’s life, but why didn’t He intervene? Why did He allow such an animal to come into this woman’s life in the first place? Why does He stay silent in the face of a monster’s cruelty?

To answer questions like that I could have reminded her that God had nothing to do with any of this, that He surely didn’t hurt her child, and that He can’t be blamed for Man’s insane actions. I could have talked to her about Job, who also had questions and complaints, and about how God  reminded Job that He was God, Job was not, and God is by no means obligated to explain or defend Himself to man. We see through a glass darkly; in the end we’ll see the whole picture and be at peace. That’s all true, but it wouldn’t have helped. It probably, in fact, would have sounded arrogant and calloused.  And somehow, looking back, I feel there’s an answer in there; an important aspect of service we often overlook:

Helplessness. In that moment of unbelievable darkness she needed
my helplessness.

She needed to see a man so undone by this tragedy that he was virtually speechless, crushed in his heart, and willing to do his best knowing that his best was, at such a time, little more than a joke. She needed to know I was as perplexed as she was, and that being God’s steward didn’t mean I had all the answers and that I was in fact saying, right along with her, Why, Lord?

None of which changes the truth. It only communicates human connection, that vital element by which we say “I’m hurting with you” rather than relying on pat answers. Because there’s a time for speaking clear, unvarnished absolutes – when someone’s in rebellion, for example, or clinging stubbornly to error – and there’s a time for weeping with those who weep rather than imposing homilies on them.

Five years later she called me, God bless her, to let me know she was doing well, had remarried, was walking with the Lord, and thriving. She thanked me for what I‘d done, and even then I knew she was thanking me for doing nothing other than keeping my stupid mouth shut, keeping it brief, and grieving with her. She grew in the truth. But initially, it was the heart, silent and broken but available, that
she needed.

I hope I learned from that. With so much deception and confusion in both the Church and the world, clearly spoken truth is more needed than ever. And with so much evil brutality on display, the compassion of one human saying to another “I’m clueless, but I’m here” is also a modern mandate.

He was full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) If I were to ever get a tattoo (don’t hold your breath) that would be it. Grace and Truth. Has there ever been a time we needed more of both? So God grant we grow in both, never settling for an imbalance between the two, always striving to, as John said, “Walk as He

Comments

  1. Tim Wright says:

    Thank you. I so needed to read and digest this into my soul.

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