Monday, May 11, began a new chapter in France's struggle with the Coronavirus. The time of confinement is transitioning into renewed activity. Many people are excited to get back to work, some are worried this might be too soon, still, others are buried under a mountain of responsibility and work. Though the sun is shining, the birds are singing the song of spring; hospitals are still treating new cases in vertiginous numbers. Thankfully, they are in decline, but health care professionals continue the fight for the lives of those already infected. We are still in a time of suffering.
I was listening to a non-believing friend share his worries and was moved by his hopelessness.
I asked him about it, and he bounced between temporal goals and ideas on how to move forward, but the uncertainty was eating away at his heart. He was thankful to talk about it, and I was eventually able to share my hope. Indeed, listening is a large part of communication. It reminded me that is what God does for us in prayer. He listens to us—but that's not all.
Jesus knew how to listen and ask questions. When he spoke to Nicodemus in John 3 or the Samaritan in John 4, we can picture Him sitting, listening and then speaking. He, the living God incarnate, was a physical instrument of divine goodness. If He were to sit with someone today, we wouldn't be surprised to hear the question of our age brought to His attention, "If God is good why…" Certainly, He might respond to some with a call to repentance as He did in Luke 13:1-5, but I wonder, for others, if He might talk more about living water as in John 4:13.
One thing I'm assured of is as He stood there, took an interest and listened, He ministered God's goodness. Before apologetics, the goodness of God was already applied in the form of a Man. He is our example, we who have been filled with His Spirit, and are called into His mission, and are faced with these questions. We often realize this, as believers, before we present our best arguments: We are an instrument of the goodness of God ministering to those in need. What a responsibility! How can we measure up? No one can meet the stature of Jesus, but there are some things we can do.
I need to remind myself often that people who don't have Christ, don't have our same hope.
I've become used to the blessing. I lean into it daily to the point that I'm tempted to think it's my stability—as if to say the Nikes I'm wearing are simply my own bear feet. But they're not, as a quick walk across the street barefoot will teach me. There are rocks and glass on the road, and they hurt. This inspires me to listen. Studies have shown that much more is communicated in conversation than what is intended. People can say the funniest things that seem out of place but may lead to deeper concerns.
I was talking with a couple who seemed to be arguing about the same thing from two different points of view. They were blocked and couldn't agree. The lady mentioned some off-subject remark about her parents that left me confused. It seemed important to her but just didn't fit the context. So, I asked her about it. It turned out we found the source of this communication issue. She shared her parents' political convictions, which were the opposite of his. This colored the way she saw how to resolve the issue they were facing, and he, who also saw a similar solution, refused to cede because he was offended by her methods. It came back to their worldview, their political views and the meaning behind the words they were speaking. Well-formed questions can be a powerful helper in unlocking what lies beneath the surface.
What are some questions to ask? I'm not the best at this; I usually refer to Paul Tripp's Instruments in the Hand of the Redeemer for this subject, or I just listen and try to understand. I want to find out what they are really worried about. There is the thing we first say, and for some people, that is as deep as it gets. But there are others, like me, who might let you in on the first level, but it will take time to see the next. Now there comes a time when too many questions become an interrogation or just irritating. I want to know their world vision, so I can discover their true hope, not just the one I think they are counting on or learned about in some seminar. People are complicated and rarely fit into prepared molds.
While listening, I like to pray for them, especially if the conversation was spontaneous rather than a formal counseling session. I'll ask the Lord to speak to me, to show me something in what they are saying, to help me understand them, to see from their point of view. If I want to be used as God's goodness, I need to know how to speak. And I want to speak because we have the hope they need. There is a pattern of how we can be used to bring hope and be used to bring the goodness of the Lord through comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:5: "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." We share the divine comfort we receive.
And I believe there is a call to compassion as in Job 6:14, "He who withholds kindness from a friend, forsakes the fear of the Almighty." I'm not the best example of this, but I need verses like this to remind me.
Being an instrument of divine goodness through comfort will mean we share in their pain.
We can build trust with them. Trust is good when people are suffering, unsure or facing uncertainty. This being said, we can also destroy it with false hope. We want everything to be alright. We pray that God will work powerfully. But there are some things we cannot guarantee.
A friend shared a story about visiting someone in the hospital before the COVID outbreak. He began comforting a person he met in the waiting room. He wanted to give them a quick answer, but as he spoke from his heart about how much he wished the best for the person, they received his words. He realized he could bring comfort by avoiding pre-made answers because they so often bring confusion and aren't pertinent to the situation.
In a similar way, I've noticed that conspiracy theories can become a parasite to the Gospel. They are interesting, grab our attention and create the same rush we feel when we watch an intense movie. If I avert someone's attention to a conspiracy theory and spend all my time talking about it, how have I served the Gospel?
From 2 Corinthians, the comfort we can give is the comfort we receive in Jesus, in His Word.
That's why I feel we can speak simply, leaning into the Word. We don't need to quote chapter and verse with an unbeliever who is sharing their thoughts and worries. Understanding clarity and truth through study, we are well-positioned to help. To paraphrase Cornelius Van Til, we share common ground with the unbeliever, according to Romans 1:18-19, they know the truth even though they might suppress it. This might be the moment God has destined for them. If they ask us how a good God could allow such a thing, they may have already asked Him. It may just be, therefore, He wants to respond through us, an interpreter of His goodness. Wouldn't that be our greatest honor? May the Lord equip us for such a task.