The Last Thing You Need to Hear

What is the last thing you need to hear? When you're despondent? When you've cried more tears than you thought possible? When the pain feels like an unbearable burden? What is the last thing you need to hear? When sadness creeps into your home stays an uninvited guest? When grief empties your heart of joy and your face forgets to smile?

What is the last thing you need to hear when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

I've overheard a lot of inappropriate things that have been said to the hurting, the grieving, the despondent. They often are fake expressions of empathy (e.g. "I know just how you feel in losing your husband; my dog died last week."). But they are more likely to be ignorant attempts at explaining "the why" of the tragedy (e.g. "God needed another angel" or "Everything happens for a reason.").

In the book of Job, the suffering patriarch's three friends came for a visit and attempted to explain the why of his suffering. They were adamant that poor Job had some unexplained sin in his life, that this was the reason for the tragedy that had befallen him. "Miserable comforters are you all," Job said.

In the story of Ruth, it doesn't take but five verses for us to see a forsaken Naomi standing at the graves of her husband and sons, forced to imagine life as a lonely, forgotten widow. Scholars and commentators have all chimed in on why Elimelech and his boys died such pre-mature deaths in the land of Moab. Was it because they abandoned the Promised Land? Was it because the boys married foreign wives?

What is the last thing you need to hear when your dreams have been shattered?

I think the last thing you and I need to hear is answers. Reasons. Explanations. Thy "why" of our suffering is the last thing we need to hear when we suffer. How do I know that?

Because the image of a despondent, bitter Naomi isn't mitigated by why her husband and sons have died. If she had known why they had died, I doubt she would have been happier or more joyous. Sometimes we are better off not knowing why. How do I know that?

Because Job railed at God for several chapters, lamenting that God was not a man whom Job could sue, bring to court, and demand answers as to why he was suffering. But when God did come down in a whirlwind, in four chapters of a reply, not once did he explain the why of Job's suffering.

Would Job have been better off if God had done so? Would Job have been comforted by learning that his suffering was because Satan had made an accusation against God, that Job's religious devotion was for hire, and that God's integrity had been on the line. Would Job have been OK with his suffering if he had known that he was a pawn in a cosmic water-cooler wager?

I doubt it.

You and I ask "why" a lot when we suffer, and we do so because we think it will make us feel better, that it will somehow mitigate our suffering if we just knew "why."

But "why" is the last thing we need to hear when we suffer.

Instead, what we need more than anything is a glimpse of God and his unparalleled majesty. We need to be reminded that God sees, that God knows, and that God cares.

The first thing we need to hear when we suffer is that God has sworn on himself to work all things according to the purpose of his will, that he has sworn to work all things to our good and his glory.

That tells me that "why" matters less in my suffering than "how." How can my suffering, my pain, my grief, my tears be redeemed by God? How can he transform my pain to praise, my heartache to hallelujah? How can God reveal his power and his love, how can he glorify himself through me?

That's what I need to hear, to ask when I suffer. Because pain is never so beautiful as when it stands in awe-struck wonder at the goodness and greatness of God.

Are you hurting? Are you grieving? Has physical or emotional pain wrecked your life? Have you forgotten what joy or laughter are like? Have you been made to walk the lonely road through the valley of the shadow of death?

May I offer this helpful word? The last thing you need to hear is answers for your suffering. The last thing you need to know is why. The first thing you need to hear is that God sees, that God knows, that God cares. You need to hear about the power and glory of God.

Because when you stand in the presence of a powerful, glorious, holy God, you are never the same.

"Father, we don't like pain. But life is filled with it, and we trust you to redeem our heartache for our good and your own exalted glory. We don't always know why we suffer, but help us to focus on Christ instead of circumstances; help us to glory in you instead of gripe about ourselves. Give us a vision of your love and faithfulness and glory and power. Through the Scriptures and through Christian friends, rub salve on the wounds of our heart through your Word. Remember that we are dust, so be patient with us as we learn to praise you again. In Jesus' name."

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