He shared with me what life was like in the months after his son’s death. He said that some of the hardest things to deal with were comments from Christians who said, ‘But at least you’ve got three other lovely children.’ He told me, ‘I would gaze at them and say, “I know. But I want him.”’

I had forgotten the destructive power of those two words ? ‘at least’ ? when they are spoken in such a situation. I recently listened to Rick and Kay Warren talk about their son’s suicide. Kay echoed my friend’s experience; she said how hurtful it was when people tried to somehow make it all better with the use of those same two words: ‘At least you know where he is’, ‘At least you’ve got each other’, ‘At least…’

So often we just don’t know what to say to those experiencing such pain. But do we also sometimes feel a responsibility to defend God, to search for a positive and to try to bring meaning into the situation?  

Last week I spoke to a woman whose young husband had died. She told me of her children’s sense of betrayal by God. After all, she had taught them from birth that God loved them all dearly and could do anything – so why hadn’t he healed their father?

Eventually, her children reached a place where they were able to begin to trust God again. But their battles with God were easier to deal with than the explanations offered by Christian friends. They said things such as, ‘All things work together for good – one day you will see the plan’ and ‘He’s in a better place now’. Once again, those two words resurfaced: ‘At least you’re young – you can marry again’, ‘At least you’ve got the children’.

Often those who are actually going through these situations are not looking for answers. I was once involved in a debate on the subject of ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ Halfway through, a man in a wheelchair interrupted. He had cerebral palsy. He took a long time to communicate what was on his heart and his speech was hard to decipher, but he repeated it for us: ‘People look at me and say, “Why?” I look up at heaven and say, “Why not?”’ The debate rapidly ground to a halt.

We need to walk humbly in this area. If people are questioning why tragedy has come into their lives, then there’s no shame in saying, ‘I don’t really understand why this has happened to you.’ In one of the oldest books in the Bible, Job asks God ‘Why?’ But then God begins to question Job:

‘Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place…Have the gates of death been shown to you?…Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?...Surely you know, for you were already born!

 ‘You have lived so many years!…Let him who accuses God answer him!’ (Job 38:12,17-19,21; 40:2) Job responds to God: ‘I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth…I will say no more’ (Job 40:4-5).

There have been times when I wish I’d done the same.

Care for the Family has a range of helpful information for those wanting to support the bereaved.