Bearing Witness

As a young adult I attend a college that had a daily mandatory chapel requirement.  For four years, I heard six sermons every week.  I quickly became an expert at evaluating the quality of a preacher within the first half-minute.  If the preacher didn’t pass the 30-second test I could be asleep within the next 30 seconds. In many ways, chapel became a place of rest for me.

After four years of six sermons per week, one in particular has stuck.  It was delivered by a professor not known for his public speaking skills.  I can no longer recall his name, but I remember the sermon as if it were yesterday.

His text was the book of Job.

He spoke shortly after the death of his wife.

She died after a long struggle with cancer, leaving behind her husband and two children.

I remember him talking about Job’s friends.  These were the guys who came to comfort Job after he lost everything: his children, his wealth and his reputation.  Initially, they came and just sat with him - listening and bearing witness.

After a while they started to talk. They tried to explain the “what” and the “why” of Job’s loss.

This is where they went wrong.

Like Job’s friends, we live in a culture that needs to understand why bad things happen to good people.  Simply bearing witness to pain and loss seems inadequate.  So we try to explain and justify: “All things work together for good,” or, “She is in a better place.”

The only thing that Job’s friends did right was sit with him for seven days and bear witness to his pain.  It was when they opened their mouths that everything when wrong.

Why is it so hard to simply bear witness to someone’s pain?