The Best Way To Care For Those Suffering

Weep with those who weep. RO 12.15

We are to have sympathy for one another in our suffering.  If one part of the body hurts the whole body hurts. If I stub my toe my hands don’t say “Oh that’s too bad – the toe got stubbed.” No, my whole body goes to the rescue to comfort my toe. My arms and hands go down to hold it and rub it. My eyes examine my toe for damage. My mouth cries “Owwww, owwww!” My whole being is there for my toe. My mouth doesn’t start giving my toe advice: “Well, next time you really ought to wait till your shoes are on before walking around the living room.” My body is just there for my toe.

So often when believers go through tragedies or hard things, we feel like we need to give them advice. To tell them how to get through it. To tell them why they shouldn’t be so sad. To say it could be worse, or well, at least you’re not getting what you really deserve.  Sadly, I have done this at times. I’ve been way too quick to offer “encouragement” when it would just be better for me to weep with those who weep.

Job 2:13 says that when Job’s friends first came to be with him:

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)

This was the best thing for them to do. Their presence was probably the most comforting thing Job had in his misery. Many times this is the best thing we can when someone’s in pain – to simply be with them.  We don’t need to try to discover why they are suffering or give them solutions. In chapter 3 Job mourns the day of his birth – he wishes he had never been born rather than go through his pain. Who could have possibly fathomed Job’s pain – the loss of his children alone would have been unimaginably devastating.  Yet on top of that he was suffering unimaginable physical pain. There was no need to correct Job. Yet in chapter 4 his friend Eliphaz begins to speak:

Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and so trouble repeat the same. (Job 4:7-8)

Rather than continuing to weep with his friend, Eliphaz thinks he knows the cause of Job’s pain and says, “Job, you must have sinned, buddy.  Or your kids must have sinned.  Because suffering is the result of our sin.  The innocent don’t perish.”

Sadly so many times, Christians, rather than weeping with those who weep, tell their brothers and sisters they just don’t have enough faith or there must be some hidden sin somewhere. Years ago, my mom developed Rheumatoid Arthritis. Many times we prayed that God would heal her, yet at the time she wasn’t healed. But Mom had incredible faith. In her suffering she never doubted Jesus’ love, power or ability to heal her, not for a second. Yet well-meaning Christians told her that she wasn’t healed because her faith was lacking. If she just had enough faith she’d be healed. Not only is this biblically false, but it makes the sick person responsible for her affliction. It’s her fault for not having enough faith. It would have been so much better for my mom if more people would have empathized and simply prayed for her.

There’s something in us humans that always wants to solve the problem. To give solutions. I’ve known many Christians who suffered some affliction or sickness and everyone wanted to tell them this medicine or that supplement to take. Have you tried…? Have you ever heard of (insert wacky name here) therapy?  I know, we all just want to help. And sometimes medicines or other approaches might help. But often the best solution is to just be there. Just pray for the person. Don’t try to figure out what caused it. Don’t assume a lack of faith. Don’t try to solve it.

Just weep with those who weep.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.