Listening and Evil

Sometimes there’s nothing you can say, and that’s a good thing. Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and talk about it.

Yesterday I had a situation happen that was very disturbing to me and very hurtful. I won’t go into it, but I will tell you I experienced angst because of it. I did not sleep as well as I could have. I remember messaging a friend about it because I wanted someone to talk to. At one point, my friend told me that they wished they had some platitude that they could tell me, but they were coming up empty.

But you know what?

I’m glad they didn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know we mean well when we say things, but I think we often think our lives are like some TV show where the perfect thing to be said is said right then and there. Well sorry. Your lives are not written out on a cue card in situations determined¬†in advance by you. It’s easy to know what the perfect thing to say is when the situation is pre-scripted.

In fact, how many of us have heard something like some sort of platitude that suddenly caused the heavens to open up and we felt the sunshine of God’s love falling on us? Hardly ever. I am sure sometimes someone can say just the right thing, but I am sure it is the rarity.

My friend last night was not able to provide a platitude, but you know what they were able to do? They were able to listen, and that’s what I really needed. They were able to hear me vent. I needed to vent. I had a lot of pent-up emotion and I had to share it with someone who would be able to hear it and bear it.

Now if you’re a man like me, this is something we really struggle with. Women don’t struggle as much as we do because they are so much better at empathy. When we men hear about a problem or suffering, it is our goal to fix the problem. If the women in our lives are hurting, if we fix the problem, then we can fix the suffering. That makes sense doesn’t it?

It makes sense, but it’s wrong. You can fix the problem and the emotional aftershock of it is still there. Imagine a scenario where a woman was raped in her own home. What is done? Well a security system that is state-of-the-art is put into the house so the woman and local police can be alerted of any intruders. The woman is safe, but she will still feel the hurt and pain of the horrible victimization she has received even in her own house.

Your lady will want her problem fixed eventually, but for awhile, she just wants to be heard, and frankly, sometimes that’s all any of us want. We just want to be heard. We just want to know that our pain is something real and to acknowledge it instead of having it tossed aside. We can too often treat the pain as an annoyance. Sometimes other people’s pain will mess with your schedule. So what? Their suffering is more important than your schedule.

Too often we treat people as the interruptions to what we want to do instead of treating people as the reason why we do what we do. After all, if you are in ministry, who are you here to minister to? It’s not to God. God doesn’t need you. It’s not to angels. They don’t need you either. It’s people.

By the way, for those wondering, no. This is not a lesson I have mastered. This is not something I have perfected. I am still regularly screwing up at this one. Add in my being an Aspie and you can see how much I struggle at being the person that I need to be. Like you, I am growing in sanctification.

This is directly relevant to the problem of evil. When evil first strikes, the best thing you can do is listen. If you have someone who will not listen at all but only speak, you are dealing with someone who is a fool.

As someone who has helped others on the path of apologetics, I have the same rule for people. I often tell them that if you are the pastor of a church someday, and a woman comes to you and is crying asking why God allowed her teenage son to die in a car accident, if you turn into an apologist or philosopher or theologian at that moment, I will come over and smack you.

Is there a place for such answers? Yes. Eventually. Give some time and you can discuss the problem of evil with such a person, but for the time being, they do not need that. They need more than anything else a listening ear. They need someone who will come alongside them and hear what they have to say so that they will not feel like they are all alone, because most suffering convinces us that we are all alone.

Are people often being rational then? Well, no. Not really. That’s also to be expected. It would be a mistake to think people will always be rational. We all have pockets of areas where our emotions take us over. We are emotional beings as well and grief is something to work through.

The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn. That’s good wisdom. We should take their sorrow as well and help them carry it. That involves listening. When we meet someone who is suffering from the problem of evil, sometimes the best thing that we can say is absolutely nothing. We can just listen. Perhaps we can offer a hug or something like that.

Oh, by the way, with that last one guys, and this is something else we struggle with, this is not a time to be trying to get romantic. If you have a wife struggling, sex might be a great way of comfort for you, but not necessarily for her. (Though you sure won’t complain if it is!) This is a time to put your own desires aside and just listen. (You can also be sure that she will appreciate it later on.)

We live in a fallen world. As Christians, we are called to be Jesus for one another. The question is how good are we going to do? We must remember that thoroughly profound truth in the Gospel of John. Jesus wept. Yes. Yes He did and there is no shame in people weeping today (Yes men. It’s okay to cry) and to come alongside and weep with those who weep. After all, Jesus was the manliest man that ever was, and he did not hesitate to weep.

Sometime soon, you will be called to say something about the problem of evil when you encounter suffering in someone else’s life. Perhaps you won’t know what to say. That could be a good thing. Don’t say anything. Just be there.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

What Is Required For Happiness?

Do we have what we need to be happy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We could say that happiness is a modern fixation in some ways. If we just say it like that, we would be wrong. Aristotle said that happiness was what we were all seeking. What is different is what was meant by happiness. For Aristotle, it largely consisted of your reputation and how you were seen by others. Aristotle did not believe in an afterlife and yet said the happiness of a person could be changed after they died. Why? You could have descendants that are horrible people and ruin your reputation. This is a happiness that is really based on the way others perceive you and if you’re spoken well of in society.

Fast forward about 2,300-2,400 years.

Today, we have the self-esteem movement. You have to feel good in yourself. You have to be able to look at yourself and think you are a good person. We are all raised being taught that we are special and we have this idea that life should work out a certain way for us. Note also that the emphasis is on how we feel. How we feel is really one of the most fluid and changing things about us, and yet we base so much on it. You can go from feeling miserable to feeling happy very quickly and vice-versa. We often say that we should not care what other people think about us, but in reality, we all care, and to some extent we should.

Now if we’re talking about that stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you from Adam and makes one statement to you, yeah. You might not want to take that too seriously. If we’re talking about people who are close to you, yeah. You might want to take that seriously. Of course, that doesn’t mean that these people are always right, but you should heed them more. It’s one reason I’ve surrounded myself with some people who I know will shoot me straight and when they say something, I work to take what they say seriously. Number one of course is that if my wife says something to me about me, I try to take it seriously.

To get back to self-esteem again, if what we are going to do is to look at how we feel at the time to determine our happiness, we’re going to be in trouble. Now there is nothing wrong with feeling happy, just as there is nothing wrong with feeling love. There is also at times nothing wrong with feeling sorrow. If there are times that we do not feel sorrow, we have to ask if there is something wrong with us.

In fact, I needed to take a little break at this point so I went to scroll Facebook some and saw a news story about a reporter and a photographer who were in a live news broadcast when shots rang out. The story does not end well. Both of them were killed. I saw their pictures up there and a message that they are loved. You know what? That leaves me with sorrow. These people were robbed from their families and other loved ones through no fault of their own. This day will be a tragedy for many people until the day that they die. I have sorrow there and I rightly should. Unfortunately, most likely I’ll just have sorrow but won’t do much about it to help, although perhaps just writing this can raise awareness.

So yes, we should feel sorrow at times, but we can’t always control that we’ll feel happy. If our feelings were so under our control, we would just make ourselves feel happy. What is more under control is our thinking and rarely do we do anything with that. Our feelings should follow our thoughts. Usually it’s the other way around. As long as we do that, we are always living in reactionary mode. What do we do when the feelings are too intense? At times, just let them run their course. If you encounter someone who has lost a loved one to death recently, don’t try to reason them out of their feeling. They should feel it now. Let them cry it out of themselves or whatever they need to do since people grieve in different ways. Of course, they should not be allowed any self-harm of any sort, but let them just feel.

Now when we’re ready to think about these matters, let’s start thinking about that happiness. As Christians, we should take this extremely seriously. We are supposed to bring a message to the world that we in fact call “Good news.” Is it really good? Do we really believe it to be good? What do we need to be happy? There are many things that we want, but what is a necessity? What is it that without this thing, we absolutely cannot be happy.

Let me start with my own self as an example. When it comes to loves in my life outside of Christ, my wife comes to mind first. Do I love her? Absolutely. Do I want to grow old with her? You bet. Does she make me happy? Yep. However, I have to ask “Is my wife absolutely necessary for my happiness?” No. She’s not. If I say she is, I’ve in fact made her an idol. In fact, she and I have talked about this. We’ve talked about people who say Heaven would not be Heaven unless their spouse was there with them. There’s no problem in wanting them there with you. You should. What the problem is is in making them a necessity.

How about knowledge and books? Yeah. I really enjoy what I do with apologetics. I would never want in my old age to lose my thinking capacity. I remember telling my father-in-law that I figure in our position, we never retire. We could never stop doing apologetics. It’s just what we love. Indeed it is, but is it necessary for our happiness? No. After all, when we’re around the throne of Jesus in eternity, we will not be debating with atheists I think on apologetics. We will not have room for doubt. Now there will still be knowledge and learning, but knowledge for the sake of knowledge is not what we need.

How about family and friends? These are great, but they fall under the same rubric as the spouse. You should celebrate all the ones that you have, but you must realize that your happiness cannot be dependent on them. To do so is still idolatry.

So what is the one foundation whereby a man can rest and have happiness? It would need to be something that can last, let’s go with eternal. Something that is consistent. This would be something that would not change. It would need to be something without limits because all other joys we have in this life get exhausted after awhile. What could that be? Only one fits the bill. God.

And since God is best revealed in Jesus, Jesus is essential to that. We have the whole of the blessed Trinity to keep us happy and if we cannot find happiness in God, we will not find it anywhere else. There is no other place that can give that kind of happiness. We can find all manner of little joys to keep us going from time to time, but nothing that will truly last. We will be wandering without a foundation.

So if we have that happiness, what do we do with everything else? We celebrate it. Your spouse is not necessary for your happiness, but God gave them to you. Celebrate them. Your passions and interests are not necessary, but celebrate them. Your family and friends are not necessary, but God gave them. Celebrate them. This gets us into thankfulness again. Be thankful realizing that every good thing in your life is a sign of the grace of God.

What happens when suffering comes? It’s okay to mourn. Just don’t stay there. Realize even your mourning and sorrow is to be different. When we lose a loved one to death, we mourn, but we do keep in mind the resurrection. When suffering comes in our life, we have sorrow, but we realize God is in control of all and that He is working all for our good. We place ourselves and our future not in our hands but in the hands of God. We look to Him and we can even be angry with Him and say we don’t understand what is going on and why it is allowed to happen, but that we are going to trust Him.

Happiness is what we all want, and it will not come easy. We will have to work at it. We will have to continually die to old ways of thinking and come back with new ways of thinking if we’re going to find the joy that we want. Joy must be worked for. It is given from God, but it is given to those who will receive it. Our God is working to make us holy and not happy in the worldly sense. If we are holy, we will have the true happiness we want.

So today, celebrate all that you have that is not necessary for your happiness as a gift, and when you think of what is most needed for your happiness, cling to that. Hold tight to it fiercely and don’t let it go. Let it show in your own life. You will not tell people the Good News well if they have no reason to think that you really show it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters