I woke up June 24 to the news that the U.K. decided to leave — or “Brexit,” short for “British exit” — the European Union. This news capped off a week that included Donald Trump meeting with many prominent conservative evangelical leaders, a sit-in in the House of Representatives over gun violence legislation, and continuing grief over the shooting in Orlando.
It is easy in times like these for Christians to try to reassure ourselves and each other that “God is in control.” And that is true — God is sovereign and reigns over this world. God shows up in the midst of hard places and suffering and turns them into places of joy, while we watch God redeem and restore situations that seemed hopelessly broken.
And yet, even as we assert God’s sovereignty, I think we also need to assert God’s compassion for those who suffer because of our decisions and actions (or inaction). There are many people in this world who suffer because of our political decisions. God is sovereign, but we still make choices and we still endure consequences that come from them.
So let us obey this God, who commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to grieve with those who grieve, to comfort others with the comfort we’ve received. This God also requires that we “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
Right now the world is in turmoil. People are frustrated with the status quo, fearful for their lives and for the future. God is in control, but our neighbors need our compassion and comfort too. How do followers of Christ live as faithful witnesses to God’s sovereignty in uncertain times, while also being empathetic and compassionate neighbors?
Unfortunately, those of us most privileged in the West haven’t experienced the depth of God’s comfort, because we haven’t perceived a need for it. And so we don’t know how to offer it to others. We don’t always know how our words can come across to people who are struggling if we haven’t heard them ourselves.
I write a lot about the long months of unemployment I experienced a few years ago. Though others have different personal experiences, this was the first time in my own life in which I saw how God could turn an otherwise terrible situation into a feast of joy, merely by being present in it with me. One day my father — a pastor who has endured quite a lot of suffering over the past few years, and who, let’s be honest, used to suck at offering comfort — said something different. He said, “Yes, this is hard. This is not how it was supposed to be. This is why Jesus came.”
Two of my favorite verses, verses that have changed my life, are Hebrews 5:8-9: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Through Christ, God learned suffering and obedience, and now we have a faithful high priest who sympathizes with us in our weakness. At the right hand of God’s throne, is Jesus, praying for us exactly the way we need to be prayed for, advocating for us. And through the Spirit that same God is with us, offering comfort.
For those of us who are comforted in the knowledge that all that is happening in the world right now isn’t the end of the story, let us refrain from offering platitudes instead of presence and solace instead of solutions. Let’s just be real. This world is frightening and full of suffering. That’s why Jesus came. And it’s in the midst of that suffering that we also must be willing to go.