“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”
–Romans 12-15 (NLT)
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'”
–Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
I suppose it was a nice day outside, but my thoughts were far from the weather. We had just finished my father’s funeral, and my heart was broken. But while I wanted to cry, I couldn’t shed a tear.
In that state, a weeping family member came up to me, but I dismissed her tears too readily as she grieved. Let me replay the scene for you.
It was apparent as I stood there that she felt lost, and that there was no one left for her to cling to any longer. But through her sorrow, she said words that I am ashamed to admit I didn’t hear. Oh, I heard them physically, but I wasn’t really listening with my heart. I often wonder if that is why Jesus often said, “If you have ears to listen, then pay attention.”
The grieving woman spoke about how she no longer believed in a literal hell. Instead, she believed in a hell of our own making–that is, one made up of the pain and suffering we experience in this present life.
To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how I reacted, but I bet I thought about what I was going to say. I do remember getting out my Christian toolbox to fix the situation.
Revisiting the moment now, I believe I said something like, “God is a loving Father.” Agreeing with her that there is much pain in this earthly life, I didn’t really pay attention to what she said. Instead, the problem was that I moved too quickly and got out my Christian hammer. I reminded her of Jesus’ observation that the rain would fall on the just and the unjust alike.
Then I might have gotten out my spiritual first-aid kit. I continued, “But Jesus also said hell was ultimately prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Don’t get me wrong. While the words of Jesus are true, and I believe in a literal hell, I should have heard my grieving family member out. Instead, I only recited arguments with the best of them.
But I have tried to learn from this, and today my intent isn’t to speak hackneyed and worn-out arguments. Instead, I want to leave us all with a challenge–the challenge of listening with our hearts to what people are actually saying. For if we listen in the way that Jesus and the above verse suggest, we might hear something very different than we think that family member’s intent suggested. Maybe, for example, my relative was doing more than questioning the existence of hell. She was crying out in pain as she sought the embrace of a loving God.
I have a feeling that if we really learned to empathize with others in the way that God tells us to in scripture, the Christian community would look quite different. While real listening requires sacrifice, I have discovered that when I ask God to change my heart, it also becomes an avenue of blessing.
I said above that I could not cry, but I wonder if the truth is that I would not cry. By refusing to ask for God’s help, I had let my pat answers replace the act of humbling myself before a loving and merciful God.
So if you find yourself in the same boat, and you can’t look through the eyes of others, maybe it is time to get out the Kleenex box instead of the toolbox or the first-aid kit. If we would only look into the mirror of scripture once again and allow God to shape and mold us, we would experience lasting change in our lives. Then, when it comes to the suffering of others, we would think more about pleasing God, and our outlooks and actions towards our fellow man would be quite different.
Thank you for reading this, and may the Lord give you a wonderful week! We are trying to reach people who are hurting, so if God lays it on your heart, please consider becoming a partner with us. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.hcmachaplains.org and click on the Donate Now link. You can also send donations by mail to HCMA (Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association). Our ID number is 560. The address is 101 S Kraemer BLVD, Suite 123A, Placentia, CA 92870.
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