The night of the Oklahoma tornadoes noted pastor John Piper sent out this tweet:
The tweet was met immediately with negative responses and Piper took the tweet down. The 140 character limit often makes it difficult to express complex thoughts. Not quite sure what Piper was trying to communicate that night. Here was his follow up tweet:
My hope and prayer for Oklahoma is that the raw realism of Job’s losses will point us all to his God “compassionate and merciful.” Jam.5:11
Okay, so whatever Piper meant to say he missed an important lesson from the book of Job about dealing with tragedy.
We often breeze right past Job 2:13. Job's friends come into the story and see Job in great misery and distress. What they did next was an admirable display of friendship and understanding in the midst of tragedy:
And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:13 ESV
A whole week! They sat on the ground and didn't say a word for a week. They just sat there and let their presence be felt.
Unfortunately they couldn't keep their silence up. As soon as they open up their big mouths they quickly show what kind of lousy friends they are. They offer advice. They offer explanations. They offer guidance. They offer condemnation. And they are completely off-base in just about everything they say. God later excoriates them for their asinine speeches.
They were doing so well...until they started talking. This is a great lesson for us. In times of tragedy it's often best to simply keep our mouths shut and simply offer our support. Be there for those suffering and show God's love through our actions. In the midst of tragedy most aren't interested in theological explanations or questions of why.
When my wife was having emergency surgery and was near death our pastor came and sat next to me in the hospital waiting room. He didn't say anything for a long time. He just put his hand on my shoulder and sat silently. A little later he prayed with me and offered to get me anything I needed. But for the most part he sat there silently. His quiet presence was a great comfort to me.
A little later a layperson came who fancied themselves an unofficial pastor came and sat next to me. They yapped the entire time about God's goodness and quoted scripture and so on and on. They meant well but I found their words distasteful at the time. I was thinking: I am a follower of Christ, I know the scriptures, I know the theology but right now my wife is near death and I wish you would just shut up.
At that time in my life I didn't need a theological discourse. I just needed someone to sit with me in the hospital waiting room.
The two pastoral approaches were striking. They reminded me of Job's friends who did so well while sitting quietly but went completely wheels off when they started talking. If you don't know what to say don't say anything. In fact, even if you think you know what to say...don't say anything. You say a lot more with your presence and your actions.