How Not to Minister to the Hurting
- Tuesday, April 26, 2011
This may be the most unbelievable article I've ever posted.
You will not believe what some people say to a bereaved parent or the family member of someone tragically injured.
Recently, while talking to Holly and her mother, I began to pick up on some truly bizarre things people said to them after Holly's young-adult brother Seth's tragic automobile accident that left him severely disabled, completely helpless, and almost without the ability to communicate. Holly describes his condition as "a low level of consciousness due to a profound brain injury."
Frankly, I was overwhelmed by some of the things people have said to this family. I had no idea people could be so thoughtless, so clueless, so heartless--all in the name of the Lord and ostensibly, with the best of intentions.
After our visit, I asked if Holly and Mary--Seth's sister and mother, respectively--could write down some of the things people have said to them over the several years Seth has been in this sad condition (our discussion centered around the strange comments--that's where our greatest teaching for this piece focuses--but at the end of this article, Holly shares some of the helpful words that were spoken).
My single contribution to the discussion was something our family pastor back in Alabama told me. When his teenage son was killed in a motorcycle accident, the family and community were stunned and heartbroken. Everyone was genuinely concerned. Most people said kind and supportive things. However, a few comments shocked even the pastor.
One lady told the bereaved pastor, "I know exactly how you feel. When my son went off to college, I thought my heart would break." The pastor smiled and thanked her, but the thought that filled his mind was, "Well, did your son come back from college? Because my son is never coming back!"
Holly wanted me to emphasize that all the Christian folks who have said these things to us have good intentions. Everyone genuinely thinks they're offering something helpful. Holly is probably more charitable than I am. Not everyone who deigns to speak for God has the best interests of others at heart.
Here they are, in the order in which she sent them along....
1. "If you just had enough faith, your son would be healed."
The variations on this theme were endless. One wonders where people came up with the notion that God will heal everyone who has faith enough. Do they think the hospitals are populated only by the sinful and faithless?
2. "God wants to heal your brother. It's your parents' fault that he does not sit up in that bed, completely restored, because they will not get rid of their doubts and have faith!"
Holly said, "The poor guy. Apparently, God really wants to heal Seth, but His hands are tied because the victim's parents don't have enough faith!"
If the Lord healed everyone of everything, no one would ever die. The story of Job in the Old Testament clearly speaks to this idea that suffering results from sin. Now all we have to do is get the Lord's people to read the Bible.
3. "You need to have faith, not that your son can be healed, but to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is already healed, and he will be."
Holly says, "Now that one just does not begin to make sense!" I respond, "You haven't been listening to the right faith healers on television, my sister."
The "name it and claim it" philosophy holds that when you believe it strongly enough, that will make it a reality. The best answer to this shallow heresy is: "Preach it in Haiti. I'd like to see those people prosper. Then I promise you I'll believe."
4. "What do you think God is trying to teach you through this?"
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