How Can Christians Ease Suffering? Part 3: Hope and Meaning

Providence in certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in his care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance. We can pray, knowing that God hears and acts upon our prayers. We can face danger, knowing that he is not unaware and uninvolved.

— Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 128–29

Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote extensively about the human need for meaning in life.1 In describing his own experiences in Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, he said that when an inmate living on the precipice of starvation gave up hope he would commonly fall over dead. Frankl’s thesis is that despair is suffering without meaning. Allow me to make that into an existential equation:

Existential Equation: D = S – M

Despair equals Suffering without Meaning.

Along the same lines, distinguished evangelical theologian and counselor Vernon Grounds listed meaning, courage, and love as essential for preventing mental illness and promoting mental health.2 Grounds insisted that one’s worldview beliefs therefore have direct implications on mental health.

So both of these mental health specialists, one Jewish and one Christian, asserted that a deep confidence in life’s meaning is critical to facing anxieties and struggles. Without meaning suffering can result in deep despair and that despair can lead to the breakdown of one’s mental health. Thus the big questions of life (in this case whether life has meaning) can directly and dramatically impact the quality of life.

Three Assurances for Christians concerning Suffering

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian world-and-life view provide powerful assurances concerning suffering. In helping our brothers and sisters deal with suffering we can remind them of promises and assure them of three things.

1. Believers never suffer alone.

God is with us during our suffering and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ personally suffered with us and for us. The God-man, our mediator, can therefore empathize with our sorrows (Hebrews 4:14–16).

2. Believers can have confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty.

God loves his children with a sacrificial love (agape) and in his providence he guarantees that all things in their lives are being worked out for their good (Romans 8:28, 35, 37).

3. Suffering is a human problem that God will overcome in the new creation.

When Jesus Christ returns and the consummation of all things comes forth God will forever do away with evil, pain, and suffering. And God’s people will enjoy his intimate presence forever (Revelation 21:1–4).

These precious promises can serve to help our fellow believers who are facing great trials in this life and can also encourage nonbelievers to put their life in the hands of their loving Creator. We should therefore be bold in encouraging the afflicted with these biblical assurances.

For more on the historic Christian response to the problem of suffering, see chapters 13 and 14 of my book 7 Truths That Changed the World.

Endnotes

  1. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning (New York: Pocket Books, 1984).
  2. Vernon C. Grounds, Emotional Problems and the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976).

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