As a child, I remember my first “lesson” in chemistry. Somewhere, I obtained a little plastic boat—it probably came in a box of cereal or Cracker Jacks—into which one could put baking soda and vinegar. The chemical reaction propelled the little boat. Little did I know that this chemical reaction is mentioned in the Bible.
You can do an Internet search and find over 16 million results for “vinegar on soda.” It is a basic lesson in chemistry. Vinegar is an acetic acid, and soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline. When you mix the two ingredients together, you get a chemical reaction forming carbonic acid, which decomposes into water and carbon dioxide gas. Many extol the uses and virtues of both vinegar and sodium bicarbonate. As a child, I was simply delighted that my little plastic boat was propelled by this chemical reaction.
The Bible uses many analogies, and some involve these substances. For instance, in Proverbs 10:26, it says: “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him.” Anyone who has tasted undiluted vinegar has experienced the unpleasant flavor of an acid, with a PH of around 3. Smoke in the eyes is also very unpleasant. And so, a lazy person who is sent to do a job, but who is completely unreliable, is also very irritating.
The Bible gives an analogy about vinegar on soda in Proverbs 25:20. “Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” The International Standard Version translates it: “Taking your coat off when it’s cold or pouring vinegar on soda—that’s what singing songs does to a heavy heart.”
Taking off your coat when it is cold is the exact opposite of what a person should do. You will be cold! Pouring vinegar on soda will make them both neutral (acids and bases cancel each other). So, the vinegar is no longer useful, and neither is the soda. Likewise, a grieving person with a heavy heart needs to grieve and mourn, and they have no use for someone trying to cheer them up by singing songs to them. As stated in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Or, in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it….” There is, indeed, “…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). A person who is mourning needs time to weep and mourn.
So, instead of singing songs and trying to cheer them up, general wisdom says to comfort those with a “heavy heart” by listening with compassion and patience, letting the grieving express their feelings, and not trying to tell them “how” to feel. Much as we would like, we can’t take away their emotional pains or sadness. We just need to “be there for them.”
And though some may even understand there is life and great potential after death, no matter what we go through, we are still human, and we suffer when we experience trials. But, there is also much we can do to help each other stay positive through them.
Each person differs to some degree in how they process a loss or endure some dire circumstance. We can simply ask them what we can do to be there for them and give support as they need it during a time of grief. Simply listening as they express their grief or performing some simple daily task they just cannot handle at the time are probably the best things we can do to help them get through the hardship and emotional pain they are suffering. That will be far more useful than singing songs to try and cheer them up—pouring vinegar on soda.