I trust that all of you know by now that Joe and Ali’s 8-year-old son, Will, was killed in a tragic accident last weekend. Our community’s collective heart is broken. We now struggle with what to say to them. In the Old Testament a guy named Job had unspeakable tragedy, and his friends said all the wrong things. At first they did the right thing by just sitting with him, offering a ministry of presence, and saying nothing. But then they opened their mouths and out came words not well spoken. Many well-meaning Christians have done the same.
I don’t always know what to say. As a minister, when I walk into a home after a crisis, people think, “Well, here comes the minister, he’s been to seminary, he’s got Rev. in front of his name, he’ll know what to say.” I don’t want to say anything. Usually, I don’t have a clue what to say.
Thumbing through another small town newspaper, you couldn’t miss a similar tragedy. Ryan’s face was the face of an angel. So innocent and so beautiful. Eleven years old. Gone. And beneath the haunting picture were these words on the obituary page, tearful words from the family of the little boy:
“Please don’t ask if we are over it yet. We’ll never be over it. Please don’t tell us he is in a better place. He isn’t here with us. Don’t say that at least he isn’t suffering. We haven’t understood why he had to suffer at all. Please, please don’t tell us you know how we feel, unless you have lost a child. Don’t ask us if we feel better. Bereavement isn’t an illness that clears up. Please don’t tell us that at least we had him for 11 years. What year would you choose for your child to die? Please don’t tell us that God never gives us more than we can bear. We don’t believe God gave us this tragedy. Just say that you are sorry. Please just say that you remember Ryan. Just let us talk about him. Please just let us cry.”
Job’s friends meant well, but they said all the wrong things. I can’t tell you what to say. But I can tell you what I believe and that is: God, not cancer, will have the last word. God, not tragedy, will have the last word. God, not depression, will have the last word. God, not grief, will have the last word. This is God’s world — God’s broken world. Our best intended words are not always right, but thank goodness we don’t have the last word.
Davis is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Carrollton.