I have a love-hate relationship with topical Bible study materials.
Which might, in fact, be the most heretical thing I’ve said this year. Because they are our staple in the evangelical world, aren’t they?
I’m not saying they’re all bad, so don’t get defensive. I’ve done a lot of growing under some really good studies, and I know God uses them immensely.
But then the Hard Years came. And all I knew to do was to look for a book or a Bible study. I read a theological book on suffering. I leafed through Bible studies on depression. I stared long and hard at the smile Beth Moore had on the cover of Get Out of that Pit, and never could be compelled to go further than the first page.
Bible verses were tossed at me—especially Romans 8:28 (“God works all things for the good…”)—and they bounced off my steel exterior. It all seemed trite and unpromising and irrelevant to what I was suffering.
It’s not that the Bible is irrelevant to those who suffer, but when you’re in the grips of something dark, every word seems either to mock you or to not be enough.
It’s as if our answer to every difficulty and every sin is to know more about it, to know more about what God says about it.
This is certainly helpful pre-emptively, and then again after the struggle has begun to die down. But sometimes you can know all the Bible verses about it and know the theological acrobatics routine, and none of it helps.
So what to do when you see a loved one suffering, questioning God and saying potentially explosive things?
You tell them you love them.
You give them a hug.
You call often to check up on them and take them with you to get coffee.
You don’t avoid the topic, but you don’t beat them over with it. Gently lead with questions, and if they are unresponsive, let it lie for now.
You invite them over for a meal, or bring one over and share it with them.
You let them know they are not forgotten.
You give them time and space and permission to be angry and grieve. You don’t rush them through all of it to make yourself more comfortable around them.
You pray for them.