A good friend recently pointed me in the direction of a sermon preached by William Coffin (unfortunate!) just ten days after his son, Alex, had been killed in a car accident. As a result of this conversation I went and found the sermon online. Here are a couple of particularly striking paragraphs:
I mentioned the healing flood of letters. Some of the very best, and easily the worst, knew their Bibles better than the human condition. I know all the “right” biblical passages, including “Blessed are those who mourn,” and my faith is no house of rest, came from fellow reverends, a few of whom proved they knew their cards; these passages are true, I know. But the point is this. While the words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is the absence of God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that “there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.” (Lord Byron).
That’s why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers — the basics of beauty and life — people who sign letters simply, “Your brokenhearted sister.” In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends — not many, and none of you, thank God — were using comforting words of Scripture for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn’t face. But like God herself [sic], Scripture is not around for anyone’s protection, just for everyone’s unending support.
I can’t say I agreed with every word in the sermon, but the opening line quoted above hit me – do we know (pretend to know) the Bible better than the human condition? Are we able to simply weep with those who weep, and resist the temptation to offer theological platitudes, which while true, may not be well timed or directed? Something to ponder.