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