I was recently told a story of two pastors: a Baptist and a Presbyterian. Both were called to be with a community in mourning after a mine shaft collapsed, killing a group of beloved family members and friends. They both rushed to where the people were gathered and saught to console as best as they were able. The Presbyterian stood with people, seeking words to say, some sort of theological explanation for the tragedy according to the best in his tradition. The Baptist embraced one mourner after another and cried with them.
Was one pastor's approach right and the other's wrong? Not necessarily. But when it comes to matters of being present with those feeling a deep loss, seeking out the comfort and presence of God in life's disasters big and small, which might they be looking for? I recall the story of Lazarus from the Gospel of John where an emotional Jesus shares the grief of those around him. While he does share his own commentary on the situation, mostly about himself (some of the confessional phrases and names unique to John are found in the story), he is not overly technical or burdensome with his words.
I recently stumbled onto a high Calvinist board commenting on the Katrina situation. One news story cited in an entry had a survivor describing the aftermath as 'hell.' An apt description for the worst experience many are facing and might ever face during their lifetime. The blog's author--who may notice the remnant of a comment mysteriously left and then deleted and wander here--was quick to say, 'Actually, no, hell is a fire of eternal torment where God's wrath is never quenched.' The survivor's experience was brushed aside in favor of doctrinal correctness. The latter was deemed more important, never mind that many use 'hell' as a descriptor for the very worst moments of their lives every day.
For people in their hells, the worst scenarios they can imagine where hope is fleeting, is it best to contrive a teaching moment at the expense of acknowledging one's deepest pain? What does it say about followers of Jesus who rush to the head at the neglect of the heart? I've written elsewhere about the importance of a thinking faith, but that thinking includes evaluating when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.
I once sat with a college friend who was having relationship problems. She wasn't in 'hell' by any means but was quite distraught with where she was and needed someone to speak to. At one point I started to quote a fairly well-worn verse from Jeremiah used in times of uncertainty. She stopped me and said, 'I want you to know that you're the only person I still let quote the Bible to me.' Over a period of months, she had grown weary of Bible quotes used rather than true listening. So many had tried to play the Presbyterian and she had been seeking a Baptist. I had failed her like so many others had before me.
If only we'd shut up and cry more often.