October 11, 2020
The receiving line is long, stretching beyond the visitation room of the funeral room, into the main lobby and out the door. Cancer won the battle, and this young girl was gone much too soon. As expected her family was devastated, and her family and friends now gathered to pay their respects and offer comfort.
The line moved slowly, but a funeral home is one of those places where patience is a virtue — people offer grace when grace is all there is to offer. Eventually, I found myself inside the visitation room. The grieving family stood by the casket as people passed by offering their condolences. There would be no need to ask how they were doing, for their faces revealed the hurt in their hearts. Soon I was within earshot of what was being said to the individual family members.
And to be honest, I was shocked to hear what was being said.
Even before I trained in hospice care and end-of-life preparation, I had given up the need to offer trite phrases that were intended to offer comfort but oftentimes completely missed the mark. Yet, here they were, being tossed out toward the bereaved family with little regard of their worthiness to comfort the grieving.
“Heaven must’ve needed an angel.”
“God won’t give you what you can’t handle.”
“You must be truly loved by God to bear such a burden of loss.”
“Never forget that everything happens for a reason.”
It would be easy to divert here to discuss epic failures in grief support. But today is about phrases like the ones I heard being offered at the funeral home, as well as many more that often are used by people of faith, primarily Christianity, that have no origin in scripture.
There are several reasons to release these phrases to the ages, the most important being that very few people outside the Christian faith find comfort or inspiration in them. Once we examine these phrases’ origins, it becomes strikingly clear why they offer little value in dialogue that validates the Christian faith.
Nowhere in scripture does the Bible reference God wanting to pluck a human from this physical existence to add to the angelic realm — nowhere. The Bible never mentions anything about humans becoming angels, and the thought of God creating suffering in a young cancer patient to become an angel is the antithesis of a creator God.
Offering to someone who is suffering that “God won’t give you what you can’t handle,” or “You must be truly loved by God to bear such a burden” is not only unhelpful, it has no scriptural foundation. These statements may have originated from misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads:
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
— The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version
Paul is speaking of sin and God’s promise to be a source of strength to help us turn away from the temptation of sin.* Never was this scripture intended to show that God loves us by how much we are allowed to suffer. Surely we can’t seriously believe that God causes cancer or kills someone so that God can be glorified in our pain?
Telling someone that “everything happens for a reason” is just as caustic a phrase and without basis in scripture. The origin of this phrase could possibly be Ecclesiastes 3:1, which says “to everything there is a season.” This, however, does not mean the same thing.
Not even close.
While it is within the realm of the human experience to continue to live after tragedy strikes, to infer God inflicted great harm or suffering on another for a “reason” suggests a selfish God who is entertained by witnessing God’s creation in pain.
This isn’t the God I care to worship, nor is it the God of the Bible — not the God of Christianity.
It’s time to acknowledge these phrases are useless, outdated platitudes that offer no wisdom or comfort and are not representative of the Christian faith.
On episode #6 of my podcast “Spirituality Matters,” we’ll dive into this topic a little deeper to help us better understand why it’s time for us to be more aware of the importance of our words and their impact on others. This is especially true for those of us on a spiritual path who want to touch the earth gently and offer kindness and love to our fellow humans.
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