Our aim in responding to suffering should be to help the individual. What we say must be:
I am seeking to develop some guidelines.
At present, the aim of these guidelines is to help people find their way through a complex subject, so they can be helpful to others. This is not an attempt to produce a tract or booklet which can be given to someone who is suffering or who has problems about the question of suffering. That may come later.
For a response to be helpful, it must be true.
I am prepared to argue this point if necessary, but I believe that no lie has the power to help anyone in the long run. A lie may appear to help, and may appear to make life easier in the short term, but this is only an illusion. The power of lies, such as it exists, is in the illusions they create. They have no realk power, and cannot provide what we need.
In Christian terms, 'truth' can be equated to 'sound theology' - speaking truth about God and about the realities He tells us about.
To b e helpful, what we say must not only be relevant to the other person, but must be understood by them to be relevant.
To be helpful, what we say must be understood by the other person.
This is much more than the mechanical aspects of talking loudly and distinctly enough, or talking in the right language.
To be understandable, we must be using concepts which make sense.
Tho be helpful, the things we say must make a difference. Our words can be true, relevant and understandable, but still be ineffective because they are considered to be unimportant - either unimportant in absolute terms, or unimportant when compared to other factors.
The most important question is the one about motivation. In order to respond appropriately, you simply must understand the motivation of the person you are talking with.
You can sometimes ask the question directly.
At other times, you need to ask indirectly.