I have been contemplating developing a curriculum to teach at Calvary Baptist Church that deals with a theology of suffering. I truly believe that the Western Church, in general, does not know how to handle suffering, pain, and grief in it’s midst. To spur my thoughts, I have been reading some of the works that have greatly ministered to me personally. I would like to relate some thoughts to you by reproducing just a couple of excerpts from them, the first being: Waiting for the Morning by Dustin Shramek, taken from Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor:
We also need to delve into the depths of our pain in suffering so that we can be honest. There are times in our lives that we can barely make it out of bed in the morning and we have no energy to do anything. Our pain and grief is so great that we are unable to concentrate. We have no energy for prayer, let alone Bible reading. God feels distant and unloving. Questions about his goodness and purposes run through our minds without stopping.
Shramek has put concisely what I have long known. Chronic pain, distress of various types (1 Peter 1) and grief are huge distractions to our Christian walk. They occupy much of our mind, time, and space. What is troubling is that the Church, good intentioned people, don’t know how to minister to someone who is suffering – especially if it is not a visible manifestation of suffering.
Shramek continues after giving a personal illustration of loss:
Many people said things to us like, “Look to Jesus! Trust in his promises. He does care for you. You need to get into the Word and pray and fight for your joy. You need to talk to others about this and have them pray for you.” We knew that this is true and right; yet, when we were overwhelmed with grief, it felt hollow and unhelpful. We needed to know that they too had been changed by our pain; that, in some sense, it was also their pain.
We don’t love others in the midst of this kind of pain by pretending that it isn’t all that bad or by trying to quickly fix it with some pat theological answers. We love them by first weeping with them. It is when we enter into their pain and are ourselves changed by it that we can speak the truth in love. When their pain becomes our pain (as Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” [1 Corinthians 12:26]), we are able to give the encouragement of the Scriptures.
My friend, Dr.Bob Kellemen, puts it this way in his wonderful resource on suffering entitled, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses:
Caring Christians throughout church history have recognized the tendencies toward isolation, escape, and retreat. To combat them, they have practiced sustaining.
In sustaining, we refuse to allow one another to suffer alone. We have come alongside one another to grieve together. We understand that shared sorrow is endurable sorrow.
I picture sustaining with the rather macabre image of climbing in the casket. When friends despair of life and feel the sentence of death, we enter their casket experience with them.
Although I can’t be physically present with you now, and I don’t know the exact casket you’re currently enduring, I want you to know that you are not alone. And I want you to know that it’s normal to hurt and necessary to grieve. (emphases added)
What brings me hope is that I know that the Church has Hope. It is in the person of Jesus Christ. And while we are truly broken people, we will not remain broken forever. That is part of the beauty of the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. This suffering will eventually yield to a much brighter future. Until then, let us enter into one another’s pain so that we may be able to bear one another’s burdens well, and encourage one another with the Hope that does not disappoint.
- Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor
- God’s Healing for Life’s Losses by Dr.Bob Kellemen
- Trusting God: Even When Life is Hard by Jerry Bridges
- Surprised by Suffering by RC Sproul
- It’s Not Fair! Finding Hope When Times are Tough by Wayne Mack w/ Deborah Howard
- Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray