A couple of months ago I was asked to address the question, “What do you say to someone whose child died from cancer and they want to blame God?  Their sadness and their anger with God just seem to rule their life!” While I attempted to provide some counsel and direction regarding the immeasurable pain of this particular loss, the same principles would similarly apply to the entire sad spectrum of tragedies, hardships, and griefs that afflict human hearts.

Long before we concern ourselves with “what to say” to grief-stricken souls who are wrestling with anger toward God, we first need to focus on “what to do” for such a person, i.e., how we should respond to them, treat them, and minister to them.  Our “presence” and our actions of kindness and compassion should always precede our words, and completely substitute for them if necessary.  Show compassion, extend kindness, demonstrate humility, deal with them gently, and be patient with them (Colossians 3:12).

The emotions of those who have suffered soul-jarring and faith-shaking losses are very real and extremely raw.  What they feel is what they feel.  Their pain is deep.  Their grief is intense.  To attempt to get them to deny their emotions, to suppress their feelings, or to feel guilty about their anger will be completely unhelpful and counterproductive and will almost certainly ensure that you will not be welcomed to walk beside them throughout their long journey of grief.

While I will conclude with a few suggestions as to what words might be offered to accompany our deeds of compassion, let me first identify a few specific things not to say.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

No it doesn’t.  Not even close.  This is one of those statements that is almost in the Bible.  Though it may sound like an affirmation of unqualified faith in a sovereign God, in actuality it slanderously accuses God of cruelty and injustice and impugns His divine will.  Romans 8:28 is frequently used as a proof text for this unbiblical notion, but that passage doesn’t teach that all earthly outcomes are somehow the result of a micro-managing, manipulative Deity.  Read the passage carefully.  “Everything happens for a reason” is a quotation from Marilyn Monroe, not the Messiah.  Since I have written about this statement previously, I won’t further belabor the point here.  See “Everything Happens for a Reason, Right?” for a lengthier discussion and explanation.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Again, close, but no canon!  Almost in the Bible, but not!  What about I Corinthians 10:13?  What about it?  The specific subject of that verse is temptation (enticement to do evil), and it affirms that God will always provide a way of escape for us; that is, no spiritual lose-lose scenarios where our only recourse is to sin; there will be a way out of temptation, if we choose to take it.  But, that is theological light years away from saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” in regard to anything and everything in this life.  Such a statement suggests that God’s divine hand is on a celestial spigot of suffering, determining and divvying out tragedies and heartaches based on His assessment of our ability to “handle it.”  It is not only wrong and hurtful, but insulting, to suggest to someone that their immense suffering is somehow a divine “compliment.”

“God is in control.”

Ultimately, yes; God reigns supreme and unrivaled over the whole of His creation.  But a cosmic control freak who expressly and explicitly manipulates and maneuvers the actions and outcomes in the lives of 7.1 billion people?  No, no, a thousand times, no!!!  Offered as a response to a tragic loss, “God is in control,” comes across as yet another hollow platitude, and, worse, one that wrongfully lays the blame for our suffering squarely at the foot of God’s throne of grace.

“God has a plan.”          

Yes, He indeed does, but the death of their child was not a part of it.

“One day you’ll understand why; one day you’ll know the reason.”

No, they won’t.

If this is a person who you know and love, tell them how much they mean to you and how much your heart aches with them and for them.  Tell them how much you loved their child, and how much you miss them.  Tell them, “I can’t imagine the pain, the hurt, the sense of loss, and the anger that you are feeling.”  Unless, of course, you can!  But, even if you haven’t walked that particular road of pain yourself, you can connect them with others who have, who can help minister to them and who know precisely what they are experiencing.

Grief is a journey and a process, not an event.  Patiently love them and consistently demonstrate the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When the time is right, assure them that God loves them, too.  Remind them that they can speak openly and honestly to God about what they are feeling.

Hopefully, in time, they will come to see how God can bring light even out of the darkest of nights, and out of our brokenness He can bring blessing.  He is not the Cause, but rather the Redeemer of our suffering.

Ultimately, however, it is not our job to convince them of these things; that will be their choice.  Our responsibility is to simply love them and minister to them.