As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.
Here is inspired wisdom for caring for the discouraged. It does not matter what your mother taught you or what you read in a psychology book. Here is advice from heaven for loving people that are hurting. You may think your cheerful approach should lift their spirits, but you might as well steal their coat in cold weather or ruin niter with vinegar. You are a miserable comforter, and your poor friend would be better off without you.
If you love figures of speech, there are four in this proverb. There are two similes, one metaphor, and a metonym to be analyzed. The words “heavy heart” are a metonym, which are substituted for a discouraged and troubled person. There is more than just a heart involved, for the proverb is dealing with a grieving person. The substitution of “heavy heart” for the grieving person shortens the sentence but magnifies the point.
Singing songs is a metaphor, which is used to condemn any light or frivolous approach to a discouraged person. The man with a heavy heart does not need someone singing songs to him. Such insensitive treatment is like a sword in his bones. Nor does he need superficialities, pleasantries, jokes, stories, trivial comments, or a lighthearted manner in his presence. In fact, these approaches are demeaning, irritating, and counterproductive.
They are as demeaning, irritating, and counterproductive as taking away a man’s coat in cold weather. Instead of helping him get warm, you steal the little protection he had and leave him worse than he was! What cruelty! A light and frivolous approach is also as contrary and counterproductive as ruining sodium carbonate with vinegar, which otherwise was useful for washing. These are similes, as indicated by the adverb “as.”
Your thoughts about loving hurting people are worthless. Neither God nor men care that you are light and jovial when facing doom and gloom. Neither God nor men care that you are sanguine and cheerful when others are fearful and worried. You are totally wrong about life, and one day soon you will regret it (Eccl 7:1-6; 12:13-14). Here is inspired wisdom: you should sympathize with those that are discouraged or grieving. You should weep with those that weep and suffer with those that suffer (Rom 12:15; I Cor 12:26).
A glass of wine is a much better idea than your idle chatter, inane questions, attempts at jokes, ignorant optimism, laughter at memories, diversionary tactics, or stupid suggestions (Pr 31:6-7). Ever wonder why no one asks for your presence in a time of need? You should be wondering about it. Wonder no more. They want compassionate and intelligent sympathy, the very opposite of your foolish and lighthearted approach.
When you lightly converse with fearful, grieving, or suffering persons, they are deeply wounded that their pain means nothing to you. Your foolish chatter tells them that you do not understand, do not care, and will forget them the minute you leave the room. They cannot believe you are so calloused, immature, insensitive, and rude in their greatest hour of need. Instead of appreciating your presence, they cannot wait for you to leave, so they can find some solace from their real friends or even from the quiet of loneliness!
Above all others, the ministers of Christ should have a compassionate and caring manner with those suffering (Heb 5:2). Though burdened with many duties and time constraints, they cannot treat the afflictions of others in a business-like or formal way. They must take the time to get down with the discouraged, feel the pain of the suffering, feel the loss of the grieving, grasp the dread of the fearful, or imagine the grief of the guilty. It is of little value to efficiently visit the heavy hearted with quick prayers and casual conversation.
True compassion joins the hurting person and takes on the fear, pain, or worry that they are feeling (Heb 13:3). Empathetic sympathy is the action of projecting yourself into another’s situation and feeling the circumstances affecting them. This is true Christian love (I Cor 13:4-7; 12:25-26). Any other approach, from avoiding those in pain to lightly dealing with their troubles, shows a selfish spirit that does not know the love of Christ. You are socially dysfunctional as defined by the Spirit of God and wisdom of heaven.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the only perfect Man the world has seen, had great compassion on those with heavy hearts (Matt 14:14; 20:34; Luke 7:13; John 20:15). He never sang songs to them; He took their griefs upon Himself and comforted them (Is 53:4; Matt 8:17; John 8:11). He commiserates with your temptations and trials in the deepest way, and you should be willing and able to do so for others (Ps 103:13-14; Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-16).