Job sits there covered in sores and in the midst of grief, and his friends sit silently with him for seven days. They spoil it all shortly by opening their mouths, but seven days is a long time. The problem is they want to work out the justice of the situation which is never resolved.
Ok, so there are a variety of opinions on this last point, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Oddly enough when suffering is going on we want to talk about justice and I get it, but when we can’t really wrap our head around the justice or injustice of suffering from perspective, limited logic, or a failure to fully trust God we have to do something.
I recommend silence.
Every pastor that stays a pastor long enough gets to sit in at a hospital where there isn’t much to say about what’s going on and how much conversation stays on what’s going on there isn’t always helpful. But I’m not a good clinical pastoral guide, I’ve never been a chaplain. There are pastors and chaplains that could speak with great authority on how to behave.
My own instincts and experiences tell me that sitting quietly makes sense, listening makes sense, and waiting to jump to answers makes sense.
When you sit down with a family waiting to go through surgery, what can you say. You know what can happen, and so do they. Just like Jobs friends – he could die, he could live, he is suffering, and it could continue or stop. It’s not beyond our ability to look into the “veiled” mists of the future.
We know, and we want to say either we can trust God.
But by that we mean that we genuinely trust God regardless of the out come, or that we believe that God will work the situation in the way that we find most pleasing. Even if the former is true, it doesn’t make it easier.
The pastoral thing to say is that we don’t have an eternal perspective. We can’t see things from the view of eternity, if we could I’m sure we’d understand the problem of pain, the theological issues of suffering, and the justice of God. Aren’t you sure?
Yeah, I’m sure that when you sit in the hospital with a friend you can solve all their problems with a sound theological argument, a good understanding of sin and brokenness, and a good smile. No that wont do at all. However, I find a good deal of wisdom in C.S. Lewis’ work on this very problem of pain: “when pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
Maybe it’s in those silent moments of mere presence God can just drop that tincture in. Maybe that’s what sitting shiva – spending silent time with your friends as they suffer or accepting the presence of your friends when you’re hurting.