When the world goes crazy and life gets upside-down, it’s really hip to say, “Just be there for someone” — and you’re called a jerk if you say anything else. This is the new quip-ster cliché, and it’s now its very own legalism.
I understand this, because it’s insensitive to preach cold abstract theology at hurting people. Anyone who does this is thrown under the Religious Nut Bus. Defending God over cancer and car accidents and earthquakes often feels like I’m punching the air. For some of us, the evil in this world is the single largest hang-up we’ll face to faith, even more than bigoted hypocritical Christians. We might part ways here and it’s easy to be cynical. And that’s okay. We’re free to disagree.
But I wonder if most millennial Christians only resort to “Don’t talk about God, just-be-there-for-them” because they’re afraid of backlash from mainstream opinion. I wonder how much of our talk on “relevance” is a cowardice in offering a clear lucid theology on the pain of a broken world. The church has definitely messed up this conversation in the past, with bad platitudes like “He moves in mysterious ways” and “Just-wait-until-heaven,” but when we’re done apologizing for where we got it wrong, the Bible still has something good to say. If we can get past the fear of ridicule, there’s a rich, robust, roaring framework of faith that can endure the worst that life will throw at us. Even when we don’t believe it to be true, I find myself wanting it to be.
Of course we need to be present to love, to listen, to learn. Our “being-there” has priority over theology. I’m not going to bring up my systematic outline of God’s sovereignty at the moment of your collapse. But at some point, I need to give you more than a hug. I need to respond to the hurt, and no one wants a pat on the head or a pat response.
I truly believe that the Christian faith has the most coherent, cogent, competent worldview on suffering. Christianity offers both the pathos and the logos, both a presence and a reason. On one hand, we keep silent vigil when a friend suffers; we are loyal by their side. And on the other hand, we talk it out. We vent our frustrations. We seek wholeness.
I believe, like Job, that it’s absolutely acceptable to struggle with the nature of God’s goodness, and that it’s okay if we’re never fully at rest with pain. We can keep asking: Is He truly good? Is He really in control? How much am I allowed to doubt Him while still holding onto Him? Do I have the grace to question Him?
Even if God never tells us why we go through tragedy, we can still ask Him —
What do we do now?
Christians believe this is all going somewhere. We don’t always know why, we don’t always know what God is really doing, we don’t always find it easy to trust Him.
But I don’t want to be ashamed of my theology.
After all, my theology is alive, risen, and here.
— J.S. | What The Church Won’t Talk About