When There’s Nothing to Say

What does one say in those situations in which there really is nothing to say, yet the urge to say something is overwhelming?

A brief setting of context here, though similar factors converge in other exceedingly difficult places in life. They are difficult places because they are abnormal, extreme, and excruciating; they defy satisfying explanations and hopeful visions of resolution. Just what do you say to the parents of a young man whose despondance led to the taking of his own life?

People take different approached to tragedies such as this. Many times the intentions are praiseworthy, but what is actually said turns out to be, in light of a recent post, stupid. We suspect as much, which in turn leads some sympathizers to stay away in order to avoid the possibility of speaking the stupid word, fearing the prospect of adding to the agony of the grieving ones. On the other end of the spectrum of response are those who just can’t wait to speak the word from the Lord which, in short term or long, will prove to be decisive in the healing of those left behind.

Then there is the “armchair” approach. It’s the need some of us will inevitably feel to figure out what might have led to the tragedy and ultimately tie up in a neat, logical (or theological) package the answer to the riddle of what went wrong. Here people will point to factors both internal to the person himelf, in familial relations, in relations to other persons, and external in the culture, where voices of hope do not abound and songs and visions of despair are disproportionately portrayed. There will be the virtually insufferable questioning of decisions, oversights on the part of parents and others close to the person, always coming to the unanswerable questions od why didn’t he, why did he, what if he had, why didn’t he, why did we, why didn’t we . . .? All of which overlooks the obvious point that innumerable parallel and, almost always, worse examples and factors occur routinely in this broken world yet without producing so horrific a result.

Sometimes the armchair is occupied by the determinist, who will ultimately conclude that this, like every other event that passes under the sun, is the will of God. Some of these will undoubtedly haul out Romans 8:28 and convince themselves that somehow this will turn out to be a good thing. Let’s be clear. The context of that passage does not necessitate that we call horrendously bad things good events, and certainly not that we ascribe them to God’s will; it tells us that in spite of all the very real and painful havoc sin has wreaked upon the occupants of this world, God’s good world will be redeemed, and His love in Christ is both His guarantee thereof and His way of being present with those who are His until that happens.

In the meantime we hurt, sometimes very, very badly. And if the character of Christ is in any way being formed in us, we will simply but meaningfully be with those who suffer as signs of hope. Maybe without saying anything when there is nothing to be said that will remove the pain. Perhaps that is the way of wisdom.