A lost job, a temporary illness, or a financial crisis can be softened by a kind reminder that it truly could be much worse. But such brotherly bromides are wholly insufficient comfort for the truly tragic events of life. And their impotence to soothe is exposed when you try to apply them to the victim of sexual assault, the young mother who has just been blindsided by the suicide of her husband, or the man who has recently been rendered a quadriplegic in a horrible motorcycle accident. How out of place would a “Things will look up again soon!” be in situations like these?
Tell me if this situation sounds familiar: You’re going through a difficult time, so you seek advice and comfort from a Christian friend. But instead of comfort, you are met with a discouraging downplay of your circumstances. They tell you, “Well, cheer up. Things could be worse!” Not the most helpful advice to a suffering person, is it? Sometimes it makes you wish you hadn’t told anyone at all.
This kind of pat-on-the-back approach to counsel is often given by believers who simply do not know how to deal with the truly tragic. They think that by not identifying the truly terrible as truly terrible, they are somehow protecting God from accusation. It’s as if they are afraid that if we really faced calamity as it is, our conception of a loving and sovereign God would by necessity come crumbling down. But as we will see, minimizing suffering is more than just unhelpful to the pained, it’s also unappreciative of God’s plan. And by staying in a state of denial, we deny ourselves and others true comfort and a unique opportunity to glorify God.
Why We Downplay Disasters
One of the biggest mistakes believers can make when facing a tragedy is to minimize it. I think so many of us do it because we lack a robust theology of suffering.