Comforting Others in Pain

In the face of suffering, believers almost have always something they can say to others: they can say, first, that they're praying for them, and, second, that everything will be alright in the end. Nonbelievers can't honestly say either of these. The closest we can get is that we're thinking about them, which can raise their spirits but not give them hope it'll actually help their problem, and that their suffering will eventually end at death, which really only helps those with terminal conditions and those afraid of hell. There's really not much you can say in the face of harsh reality that doesn't involve asking them to toughen up and accept their plight.

I've been thinking about this recently because I have a classmate who's suffered both a divorce and a diagnosis of cancer within the past half year. (What's worse for him is that his ex-wife is now with another classmate of ours.) He's really nice, honest and hardworking, and I like and respect him. On Facebook, his status updates about his treatment and various difficulties always receive many comments about people praying for him and promising him that it'll be alright in the end. I honestly add that we've missed him and hope to see him again soon, and I do hope all the comments make him feel better, but my inability to say anything more just got me thinking on this topic.

Sometimes I think it'd easier if I again believed that everything will eventually be perfect in the afterlife, but I'd probably again fear the prospect of eternal torment for failure to live a good enough life. If I had a choice between somehow honestly believing that life will never end but that there was even the tiniest chance I would end up in hell, and believing that my life will end forever at death, then I would certainly choose the latter. I'd sacrifice a very, very high probability of eternal pleasure to avoid even a very, very low chance of eternal pain. Of course we can't honestly choose our beliefs, and even seemingly perfectly innocent self-deception can have unpredictable negative consequences, if not for me, then for others. I hope that I can remain as intellectually honest throughout my life as I resolve to be today.



Anonymous said...

I agree. I have often felt the wish I could say "I'm praying for you" for people at our church but I refuse to lie.

Actually, the fact I go to church is a lie in itself that I'm coming to grips with. I try to get out of communion because but I don't want to harm others faith.

I just read the quote "There are more athiests in the pews on any given Sunday then in all the Athiest organizations". How true.

TychaBrahe said...

I've always said "Gesundheit" instead of "Bless you." I've never said "I'll pray for you," because even when I believe (or really hoped) there was a deity, I thought it took a special sort of arrogance to think you knew better than a deity, or could change his/her/its mind.

But I would really like a word that means "godspeed" without invoking God. The sort of thing you can think when an entire fire station comes rushing past with full sirens blazing, or when a friend packs up to head out to a disaster with her SAR team. "Go swiftly and safely to your appointed tasks and may your arrival be in time to make a difference," in one little word.

Suggestions are welcome.

LORI said...

TychaBrahe- Here are a couple suggestions for you. When someone sneezes you can always say Salud, which means "to your health" in spanish or italian. You usually only see it spoken in the movies when people raise their classes but it is used for sneezes as well.
When "I'll be prayin for you" is what you might say, say "I'll be thinking of you all week, day, etc" and instead of godspeed I say Peace be with you. It may sound corney but I wish peace about those around me all the time. Instead of God Bless you on your Birthday, which I used to write I write Peace, love and happiness be yours today and always.

Virgin Martyr said...

This blog is such a great thing... I've suffered from OCD for 10 years, first being afraid of the possibility of mortal sin, then just about me and my family going to hell. This year thoughts were growing extremely strong, forcing me to resign for a year from my studies. But I've understood that the only guarantee I can rose from my grave is Jesus Christ remaining in his. I'm at the process of deconverting, I would call it "matanoia", the change of thinking. I don't want to spend my afterlife with someone who was unwilling to give me the very only thing I needed- universal salvation. Well, in fact I have been always wondering why do people call that horrible book Gospel, Evangelium, Good Newas. It is certainly the bad news for everyone who has ears to hear. Yesterday I was reading a medieval treaty on the art of dying "well", an ars bene moriendi. Lord, the people who give such an emphasis to the very moment of death are insane. We can suffer from OCD but it is entire Christendom which should do so, if they were just able to consider the message they preach.

Tyler said...

I think someone like Christopher Hitchens said it best when he quipped that those who offer false consolation are false friends. It seems all roses and cupcakes on the surface to be comforted by those promising their god is looking out for you, but to me the honest concern and well-wishes of a friend mean more than the empty shells of sympathy heaped on in the form of prayer.

commoner51 said...

Sounds like budhhism. Accept reality on it's own terms. Stop craving and wanting things to different.