Posts Tagged ‘suffering’


October 23, 2009 5 comments

Pierce had a tough day Tuesday, poor guy. It started as a routine circumcision, but when his blood wouldn’t clot, it turned into a trip to the ER and an overnight stay in the hospital. No fun at all. But this post isn’t about Pierce’s tough day. It’s about a sort of epiphany I had during his supposedly routine procedure that started it all.


Going in to the clinic Tuesday morning, I was all geared up to be in the room and witness my tough guy’s painful moment. When we got there the pediatrician informed us that typically parents aren’t in the room with their child when the procedure is being done (unless they insist).

We didn’t insist. Instead, we waited. And while we were waiting I was reflecting on the curious fact that parents can handle the whole ordeal better if they are in another room just 30 feet down the hall. Parents still know what is going on, but it’s just easier for parents (and, consequently, doctors) if the parents don’t hear the crying and see the tears of their child.

I’ve often been intrigued at this curious relationship between proximity and sympathy. I suppose that if we were on the outside looking in on the human race, it would strike us as rather strange to know that humans will hurt less for other humans if they don’t personally witness these people’s pain. Odd, isn’t it? Yet as insiders to the human experience, we know how normal this weird relationship between proximity and sympathy really is.

As a minister, I notice this all the time, and it constantly baffles me. I’ll hear of a death and will hurt for the family…but invariably I’ll hurt immeasurably more when I attend the funeral and see the hurt firsthand. I’ll hear of a person receiving a dreaded diagnosis and will feel sadness…but not as much as I’ll feel when I enter that family’s home and see the fear and anxiety on their faces. I’ll hear that one of our church members is in the hospital and will sympathize with them…but when I open the door to their hospital room I also open the door to a yet untouched part of my heart.

This proximity-sympathy phenomenon carries more than mere intrigue for me. It carries with it a challenge. It’s a compelling reason for us to hurry to the side of the one who is hurting. Why? Because our presence will do more than communicate our concern to them. It will increase our concern for them.

I guess you could say: you have to see it to bereave it.

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October 17, 2009 1 comment

Earlier this year Heather and I watched Wicked at the Orpheum in Memphis–a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you have yet to see it, Wicked tells the stories of the witches from the Wizard of Oz. Once you see it, you’ll never again look at the Wizard of Oz the same way. Wicked changes your perspective by telling the familiar story from a different angle.


Shortly after my trip to Memphis, I began reading and studying Psalm 22. This Psalm voices the cry of an innocent sufferer. The sufferer in this Psalm alternates between his bitter experience and his unyielding faith, between what he knows to be real about life and what he knows to be true about God. His relentless struggle finally pays off, as his prayer for the help he desires becomes his praise for the help he receives.

This Psalm is worth reading because it expresses the perplexities of suffering and validates the feelings of abandonment that we feel at crucial times in our lives. In fact, Jesus, in his great moment of trial, reached for this very Psalm and made its words his own as he cried from the cross, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Although these words–Why have you forsaken me?–are the most famous words of the psalm, they are not the final words. The last words of the Psalm–he has done it–sound a lot like some of Jesus’ last words–It is finished. They also sound a lot like Paul’s words in Romans 8:3–God did. What did God do? He condemned sin in the flesh. How did he do it? By sending his own son in the flesh and allowing him to suffer and bleed and die on account of humanity’s sin.

In the end, Psalm 22 functions much like Wicked: it changes our perspective and causes us to never again look at something the same way. Psalm 22 changes our perspective on suffering–both Jesus’ and our own–by reminding us of one guarantee we’ve been given in Scripture. In a world with few guarantees, God promises that suffering will not have the last word. It didn’t in Psalm 22 for the psalmist. It didn’t in Matthew 27 for our Savior. And, thanks to Jesus, it won’t for us either. The final word is not suffering; it’s not death. The final word is resurrection; the final word is victory.

So the next time your faith and experience collide, remember Psalm 22 and remember:

  • God did.
  • He has done it.
  • It is finished.
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October 15, 2009 4 comments

We are studying the incarnation of Jesus this week in the graduate course I am taking. It is fascinating and mysterious how Jesus was fully God and fully man. The instructor pointed out that liberal theologians have downplayed the divinity of Jesus, while conservatives have (in an effort to defend the divinity of Jesus) downplayed the humanity of Jesus. I think that’s a fair critique of both sides. Speaking as a theological conservative, it does seem that we have a bit more difficulty coming to terms with the full humanity of Jesus than the full divinity of Jesus.


Take, for example, our almost knee-jerk reaction to Jesus’ strength in the face of temptation or suffering: “Yeah,” we think in the back of our minds, “but he was God.” We take his strength as a given, reasoning in terms only of his full divinity: “Of course he was perfect! Of course he endured suffering like a champ! He was GOD on earth, after all.”

Our protecting the full divinity of Jesus (and subsequently under-appreciating the full humanity of Jesus) creates a subtle distance between us and Jesus; it weakens the full force of Jesus’ challenging example because, we reason, he had the ultimate advantage over us. We’re not like him because we’re not God.

Stressing the full humanity of Jesus is crucial, then, for at least two big reasons:

1. Because Jesus was fully human, his example of strength in the face of temptation and suffering is powerful and relevant (Heb. 12:3).

2. Because Jesus was fully human, he is able to fully sympathize with us when we face temptation and suffering (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15-16).


October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

This morning Heather’s and my newborn son was rolled off to the ICU before we had been given the opportunity to hold him–a very anxious and heart-wrenching time. His condition has improved throughout the day, and we are incredibly relieved and thankful. This afternoon I was told of a couple whose baby was stillborn two days ago in the same hospital I’m typing this blog post. I could have sobbed for hours listening to their story. This evening I read this week’s notes for a class I’m taking at Harding Graduate School of Religion. This week’s material was primarily about a Christian’s response to suffering. As part of our grade, we post some thoughts each week to an Application Forum about that week’s topic. Below are excerpts from my responses to the posts of two other students in my class who each shared their stories of overcoming suffering…


Response #1: I hope that I will handle suffering in my life the way you are handling it in yours. Specifically, I hope I will be able to ask “what” instead of “why.” I tend to want to get to the bottom of everything (as you can see from my post this week, I suppose); I admire you for asking the most productive questions. I also hope I will be able to not allow suffering to consume my thoughts and life. I admire how you are not constantly thinking about your suffering, but are able to continue to minister and live in power and not fear. Thank you for blessing me by the sharing of your story.

Response #2: I like what you said–that “why” is likely not the question that will get people through these difficult times. Maybe the “why” question is helpful before suffering–to prepare for suffering up ahead. But in the middle of suffering, the “why” question seems to typically be counterproductive, since we’ve not been granted full access into the mind of God. Like you said at the end of your post, what choice do we have but to walk by faith?

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