Happy New Year all. Our semester begins today with the first session of Psychopathology for the first year students. Before launching into the various forms of mental illness and emotional maladies, we consider the larger concept of suffering. Without a careful understanding of (a) the nature, causes, and theology of suffering, (b) the meanings of suffering, and (c) our beliefs and responses to suffering, we counselors become a dangerous lot. We fall prey to simplistic understandings and responses–and fall prey to false hope and false despair.
Sound like a great way to start of the New Year? It does to me because we now have an opportunity to look at ourselves and our world with more realistic eyes than we may have during the stress of the holidays.
Coincidentally, we had a Sunday School class yesterday on the topic of suffering. Our church has buried 10 people who died before their time (so it seems to us!) in the past 5 years. Not only have we had these tragedies, we’ve also splanted a church and been in a transitional malaise for maybe 7 years? The class allowed individuals to talk about suffering and heartache. Good class. We heard those who felt that what was going on was a message from the Lord, from those who just felt confused and in pain, from those who felt the nearness of the Lord during these normal ups and downs of life in a fallen world.
What was said in multiple ways was that one’s perspective or expectations about suffering really impact how one feels about the struggle of life. If you expect life to always be healthy then repeated sicknesses and death will set you back. Someone said there that if you lived in a dirt hut that moving into a trailer would seem wonderful but if you lived in a palace, the trailer would seem a terrible thing.
So, what should we think about suffering and the seeming explosion of death and heartache?
- God is saying something AND yet He may not be sending some special message to us
- Our actions may cause some of our own suffering but living more righteous lives does not prevent suffering
- Suffering is to be expected in this world AND yet it is NOT THE WAY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE
- Isolation and failure to connect to others in suffering ALWAYS makes that suffering worse
- Even those who only observe those in suffering suffer as well and need to connect with others in order to avoid despair
- Good may come out of suffering, but suffering itself is not good
- God, through the cross, bears our suffering and yet it still hurts
- It will not last forever
Finally, how do you respond to suffering? Turn away? Become numb? Angry? Probably all the above, right? Take a moment to consider how you respond to suffering right in front of you and watch yourself for those trite statements that can hurt those who are already in pain.