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When bad things happen to you or the people you love, how do you try to comfort them?

It’ll all work out for the best!

Things could be worse. I heard of one guy who . . .

Don’t waste time worrying about it.

If you’re a Christian, perhaps you say something like this:

God’s in charge, so he must have wanted this.

God made it happen for a reason, even if we can’t see it.

God doesn’t want you to be sad. Just keep trusting.

We mean these words kindly. And there’s some truth in them.

Minimizing Pain

Things could be worse. Compared to global poverty or terrorism, your broken leg isn’t so bad. On the other hand, compared to how your leg normally feels, this stuff HURTS.

When I say “Things could be worse” to a friend, instead of helping them I minimize her pain. When I say it to myself, I’m often trying to avoid sadness. It’s too painful, so I won’t feel it. 

But some pain needs to be felt. Only then can we also know hope.

The psalms are full of weeping. This isn’t a mistake. There are many things to lament in this world. But sometimes we try to shortcut the lament process by simply saying “God’s got a plan.” He does, but that doesn’t make bad things good. And it doesn’t remove all those why questions that fill the psalms and our hearts. God tells us to bring our tears to him. Sometimes, however, we gloss over pain and go for platitudes instead.

She was too good for this world.

God never shuts a door without opening a window.

Two Things We Must Say

We say these things with the best of intentions, but they don’t deal with the reality of evil. God calls evil things “bad,” and we can too. “He who holds the power of death” is the Devil—and he’s an enemy (Heb. 2:14). Death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). In contrast, God “longs to be gracious to us” (Isa. 30:18). He loves us and wants our good. He takes no pleasure in our pain. 

But . . . sometimes he allows it.

He could have stopped the car crash. He could have prevented the bullying. He could have put us in a different job or family or setting.

God’s people go through the flames, and he lets it happen. Why? Sometimes we won’t ever know. But he uses what’s intended for our harm to bless us. He takes what the enemy means for evil and makes it part of something precious, something we can’t get in any other way. We might not see it in this life, but he is at work. And the enemy is, and will be, defeated.

In the face of evil we need to say two things, not just one. First, we say that some things are evil. Second, we say God turns them to good. We must affirm both. Romans 8:28 doesn’t say “all things are good,” but “all things work together for good.” At Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus didn’t wink to the dead man’s sisters, knowing he would soon be raised. Instead, he wept. Jesus didn’t smile through Good Friday. He cried out “My God, my God!”

Christ promises to bring us through suffering and raise us to new life.  But resurrection follows the cross—and there are no short-cuts.

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at A New Name