One of the most important roles of a spiritual community is to give hope for the hurting.
— Dr. Ken Jung, “Giving Hope for the Hurting”1
Why would a good and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering to exist in the world? This tough question has troubled people throughout every era of history, but I believe the historic Christian worldview provides good answers. The central apologetics answer is that God brings about greater moral and spiritual goods through allowing incidents of evil, pain, and suffering. Yet I also think Christians have the power and ability to help ease people’s suffering and thus be the vehicles of God’s love and concern to the hurting. I’ve addressed the academic answers to the problem of evil. But this series is intended as a practical, pastoral response to the challenging problem of evil, pain, and suffering.
Lessons Learned from My Own Suffering
When I went through a life-threatening illness some 10 years ago I felt like I had been swept away in a powerful ocean current. Since my illness affected my brain (multiple abscessed brain lesions caused by a rare bacterial infection) my mental state and thinking were scattered and my basic equilibrium was off. Physically, emotionally, and intellectually I felt pulled and yanked in various directions. The experience turned my life and the life of my family upside down. I was left feeling at first numb and then overwhelmed.
I learned firsthand that people who are going through a severe crisis need to know that someone is protecting them and looking out for them. Let me touch upon four ways that helped ease my sense of vulnerability and risk during my illness.
- Family Care: My wife is my soul mate and my covenant partner in life. Her love and care helped me to hold on during those very challenging days. Extended family and friends helped care for our children in order to allow my wife to spend more time with me. I was reassured that the people I care for most were safe.
- Spiritual Care: My pastor, church elders, colleagues, and friends in ministry visited me at the hospital and prayed with and for me. This ministry helped me to return to a place of confidence that I was not alone in bearing this life-threatening illness. I was reminded that I am a member of a community of believers (the body of Christ)—I couldn’t count the number of people who prayed for my well-being.
- Medical Care: It helped a great deal when my doctor explained to me in detail where I stood health wise and what I was up against. Explaining his diagnosis and his plan of treatment helped me to feel that some order had once again returned to my life. Good medicine after all is a gift of God’s providence.
- Financial Care: Being hospitalized for almost a month I was greatly relieved to know that I had good health insurance. My employers were generous in letting me know that they stood behind me and didn’t want me to worry but instead that they wanted me to concentrate on getting well.
I am well aware that many people do not have the kind of support that I had when facing one of my life’s greatest challenges. But I mention these four areas of care because in order to comfort those who are suffering effectively it is critical to help them to reestablish a genuine sense of security. When attempting to ease someone’s suffering it is wise and prudent to consider how you might contribute to this indispensable goal.
Ask yourself how you can help people in need—in big or small ways. These hurting people may be your direct family members, church friends, neighbors, or even strangers. Ask the Lord to use you in easing the suffering of others. Consider working with people at your church or volunteering at an organization that reaches out to the suffering.
Recently, when visiting a sick friend at a local Catholic hospital I was moved to see this verse on the lobby wall:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
Upon reading that verse I asked God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ to use the Holy Spirit in helping me to be an agent of his peace and comfort.
For more about my illness and the life lessons that I learned through it in the context of the historic Christian worldview, see my book A World of Difference.
- I have drawn upon some of pastor and apologist Ken Jung’s excellent ideas for helping hurting people in his articles posted here: http://www.renewingeli.com/2013/09/hope-for-hurting-part-1.html.