Churches Need a Biblical Theology of Suffering

PAMELA MCGINTY | GUEST “When it is the heart that has been wounded, it doesn’t heal.” These words broke my heart when I first heard them, from a woman who had experienced great trauma throughout her young life. Women across Africa often express similar beliefs.  The word, ‘trauma’ comes from the Greek, τραύμα, meaning ‘wound.’ Emotional trauma is a wound of the mind and heart that affects our brains, bodies, beliefs, and behaviours. Yet, the effects of trauma CAN change, hearts CAN heal, and our faith and trust in God can be renewed and grow. Africans Know Trauma Africa includes many of the most traumatized countries in the world. Physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse, violent crime and political unrest are often the norm. Yet, emotional health is often ignored or poorly addressed, and holistic soul care within the church is rarely found. Many Africans know trauma all too well, yet often have little understanding of its effects on them or where to turn for help. Where should our emotional support come from? Africans are spiritual. Most all believe that a Creator designed us as embodied souls, but many pray to a god whose favour they believe they can earn. Africans are relational, but across South Africa much traditional community and extended family support has been lost due to displacement and economic pressures. More than two-thirds of homes are fatherless and healthy; intact nuclear families are rare. In some African cities there is a growing desire for professional counselling, yet this can be confusing or harmful when it contradicts traditional or Christian beliefs and ethics. All Western thought may be held suspect, even the common grace wisdom that God has revealed through sciences. Few Christian mental health professionals are equipped to understand their secular education through the foundation of their faith, or to discern where conflicts exist between them. A Missional Opportunity All this leaves many Christians feeling desperately alone when seeking relief from emotional pain. Yet, this provides an amazing opportunity for the Church. Diane Langberg believes “…trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the twenty-first century.”[1] All souls who do not know the Lord are our mission field, but by addressing the trauma that hearts have experienced and providing biblically sound counsel with an understanding of the physiology involved, we can point people to Christ and the healing of souls which only He can provide...

Churches Need a Biblical Theology of Suffering2023-10-09T21:54:50+00:00

A Reason for Pain and Suffering

SHARON ROCKWELL|CONTRIBUTOR Now in the winter of my life, I have witnessed many friends and family members deal with hardships that resulted in physical pain – miscarriages, a stillborn child, loved ones taken too soon, those who have had to endure cancer and heart disease.  Whenever I encounter someone in physical pain, my first inclination has been to pray that the pain would be taken away.  Secondly, I would offer help where needed.  Finally, I would make a deliberate effort to be grateful for all my blessings and for God’s goodness to me.  My feet have landed in pleasant places in comparison.  Psalm 16:5-6 reminds me of God’s goodness; “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Never have I looked into the eyes of a friend who was in pain and thought to myself this is a reminder to repent.  But that is precisely what John Piper tells us is a reason for physical pain in the world.  In his book Providence, Piper presents a convincing argument that God uses our pain as a call to repentance.  He reminds us first that our fallen world is under God’s judgement.  He permits the physical pain, the tragedies, and death itself.  But why?  Why does God judge the world with physical pain?  His argument goes back to the fall.  When Adam rebelled and ate the fruit of the tree which he was not supposed to eat, he was essentially taking a stand.  He decided that his ways were better than God’s ways, that God’s law did not matter, arrogantly thinking that there would not be consequences.  It was a mockery of God, completely out of step with what he owed God, which was glory, praise, honor, and obedience. We are still like Adam, completely unaware of how much our sins grieve our holy God.  God has become so insignificant in our daily lives that we don’t realize how much we hurt Him.  Piper suggests this is “one of the reasons God judged moral evil with physical pain.  While fallen people do not value God, they do value being pain free.  Therefore, to point them to the outrage of belittling him, God judges that belittling of God with physical pain and sorrow.  He subjected the whole creation to futility and corruption.  In other words, God puts the call to repentance in the language everyone can understand – the language of pain and death.”[1]...

A Reason for Pain and Suffering2023-08-15T13:24:26+00:00

Light in the Shadowlands

JENNIFER HARRIS|GUEST In the high desert of sagebrush and wildflowers in south central Washington, one can trace the course of the sun from sunrise to sunset. From my living room window, I can see this journey as the sun performs its faithful task each morning sending anticipated rays of light over the eastern hills, breaking into darkness to declare a new day has begun. Through the course of the morning, making coffee, sending the dogs outside, lighting a candle, putting on Appalachian hymns, waking kids for school, and preparing breakfast, the view of the sun continues its ordained course over the Ahtanum Ridge to the south. Once the sun is high enough, I don’t pay much attention to its position as I hustle to and fro throughout the day. So high above little me is this hydrogen and helium star that bathes the landscape in unabashed light. As the sun dances across the ever-blue skies, shadows appear. This is where the artistry of God is on display. He paints a new canvas with contours and contrasts, a living work of art in constant motion from dawn til dusk. You don’t want to go too long throughout the day without taking a peak out the window to see what He’s come up with next on the hillside canvas. Every morning, night is transfigured with brilliance, and the shadows are reshaped by light. It is the same way in our lives; there are shadows of darkness, fear, and brokenness. But shadows inevitably prove there is a light shining somewhere. This is true in my own life...

Light in the Shadowlands2023-03-24T17:23:00+00:00

A Better Love Song: Suffering and God’s Great Love for Us

BARBARANNE KELLY | CONTRIBUTOR “He loves me. . . he loves me not. He loves me. . . he loves me not” Did you ever play this childhood game? Plucking the petals from a daisy to determine the feelings of a childish sweetheart, the outcome dependent upon whether the flower had an even or odd number of petals. Silly, right? What does the number of petals on any given flower have to do with the intentions of the heart? And yet, is this the narrative that plays in your mind when suffering comes? Do you pluck from the circumstances sent by our heavenly Father to determine whether he loves you? Some circumstances feel loving, others don’t. When he makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you beside still waters (Ps. 23:2), do you sing, “he loves me!”? When he calls you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4), does your heart whisper, “he loves me not”? Suffering forces us to face what we truly believe. Do we believe that God loves us and that he is working all things—even hard things—for our good? When trials come—and they will: disaster, disease, depression, death—which narrative will be our default? When faced with pain, what is the first thought, and then the next, and the next, that enters our minds?

A Better Love Song: Suffering and God’s Great Love for Us2023-03-24T18:07:35+00:00

On Suffering Well and the Mercy of God

MARISSA BONDURANT | GUEST She stood next to me one Sunday with tears streaming down her cheeks. Without looking at her, I gave her arm a squeeze. Both our faces were up; both of us were singing loudly. But I was singing of God’s faithfulness with a new baby strapped to my body, and she was singing of God’s faithfulness with the stinging news of another failed IVF treatment. In my heart I wondered, “How is my friend doing it? If I were in her shoes, there is no way I’d be able to sing to the Lord this morning.” Suffering Well Have you ever had a similar thought? Have you ever watched a fellow believer suffer well and wondered how she did it? It might help to define “suffering well.” To suffer well is to suffer like Jesus. To acknowledge the real pain and sorrow of the experience, while simultaneously holding on to the hope that the pain will not last forever. Before he went to the cross, Jesus was honest with his Father about his pain – asking God to “let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39). Then his prayer moved directly into hope and trust, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). My friend who sang praises to the Lord in the middle of heartache was not ignoring her pain. She was pleading with God to make her a mom, but she also held onto God’s promise to make beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Perhaps hardest of all, she trusted that God’s version of beauty would be better than any version she could imagine.

On Suffering Well and the Mercy of God2023-03-24T18:09:56+00:00

The Provisions of God in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Days

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR One of my favorite childhood books is, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” The brilliant little story depicts the daily frustrations that create a terrible, horrible day for a child: gum in the hair, dropping a sweater in the sink, tripping over a skateboard, and all the no good, very bad things in between. My freshman year in college I had a knee injury that required me to travel home for surgery. The day I returned to campus, I hobbled around on crutches sporting a massive brace on my leg. I also returned to campus the day after an ice storm, so hobbling outside became more like sliding. On crutches. With a knee brace. Super fun. I also returned to campus to find that the elevator in my dorm building was broken. I then discovered that not only would I be required to limp down four flights of stairs to get out of my dorm, but I’d need to stumble down two additional flights to get to my music classes. Because those elevators were not working either. That day I returned to campus was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The Provisions of God in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Days2023-03-24T18:10:12+00:00

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others

LEAH FARISH|GUEST In the darkest season of my life, I was lifted decisively out of the pit by a passage in the book of Hebrews. The three simple commands embedded in it made all the difference. Like many crises, mine was a wreck of multiple trains. My legal work on a case had provoked opposition that descended to the level of criminal threats against me and my client. Physically, I was dangerously fatigued and in pain. Travel upheavals had left me on a different continent from my husband and children. It was almost Christmas, and a snowstorm made even church attendance unlikely. I opened my Bible to Hebrews 10, and this is what I read: Therefore, brothers,] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (vv. 19-25) Three phrases stood out to me, leading me like flashing beacons in an icy night: Draw near With these two short words I was summoned into God’s presence. The fire in those words of Hebrews warmed me. I had been asking for so many things, and now I could see I was being welcomed not just to speak to the Lord, but to climb up in his lap and feel his embrace. My heart was broken and fearful, but I remembered, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), and that if I draw near to him, he will draw near to me (James 4:8)...

In the Darkest Night: Draw Near, Hold Fast, Consider Others2023-03-24T18:11:54+00:00

The Life of Naomi and How Adversity Disguises God at Work

DEBORAH MCQUILKIN|GUEST My life as a Christian is not what I expected. In fact, at one point I said to God, “Is this worth it? Thirty years I have followed you as closely as possible, and this is how it turns out? Should I just leave you now? What is the point?” Shock and disappointment filled my heart and I wondered what my life meant. Then ever so gently Peter’s words in John 6:68 settled in my mind, “Where would I go? You have the words of life.” I knew God’s word is steadfast, timeless, and relevant, and the decision was made. In fact, that decision was made when I committed my life to Christ. I would not leave my Saviour, for God would never let go of me. However, I would need to work through my resentment toward God about my unmet expectations, for they created a barrier in my relationship with Him. Perhaps not unlike Naomi’s experience in the book of Ruth. On Expectations and the Life of Naomi When I reviewed the story of Naomi from Naomi’s perspective rather than Ruth’s in my study Naomi: Reason to Hope, it was a revelation in God’s truth for me. Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant), call me Mara (bitter) she says in Ruth 1. Her expectations were dashed, and she was bitter. She expected, as one of God’s covenant people, to experience personal peace and affluence. She wanted to be a wife and mother, with resources and an abundant life. Within ten years, all those expectations were crushed, she was left responsible for two daughters-in-law, and she felt she had no assets. “I went out full and I came back empty” she says. Had Naomi really come back empty? Had God abandoned her? Was God insufficient? Naomi’s perspective was not God’s perspective. Naomi looked at her immediate circumstances; God planned eternity and the salvation of all generations. Naomi was concerned with how she felt and what she wanted; God was concerned with the birth of the Saviour. Who would facilitate a godly line? Would Naomi cooperate with God in assuring the descendants of Salmon, Elimelech, and Boaz?  These men are ancestors to King David and in the lineage of the Lord Jesus! A study of Naomi in the book of Ruth demonstrated that life brings financial insecurity, loss, death, transitions, conflict, and drama. These are a part of life we don’t want to expect. We feel surprise or even shock when devastating events come. But there is hope: God is present, and He is good. May I repeat, God is good. In His love and sovereign control, God never fails to do good to and for us...

The Life of Naomi and How Adversity Disguises God at Work2023-03-24T18:12:41+00:00

God’s Promised Deliverance Precedes Our Difficulties

STEPHANIE HUBACH|CONTRIBUTOR “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) In February 2020, we had the privilege of taking our youngest son Tim—who has Down syndrome—on his first ocean cruise. At that time, there were rumblings in the news about a concerning virus that was beginning to wreak havoc in Asia, but our chosen journey was thousands of miles from there. Surely, we had plenty of time to fulfill one of Tim’s long-held dreams. (A funny thing happened during our island-hopping expedition, however. Tim informed us that, when he said he wanted to go on a cruise, he really meant “the one with the little hotdogs.” Translate: Tim wanted a ferry ride on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, 45 minutes from our house. But I digress.) Our adventure took us to four countries in the Caribbean over the course of a week. Tim absolutely loved it! (Probably because there were much grander meals than just “little hotdogs.”) One of the highlights of the trip was the dining experience. Not only was the food abundant and well prepared but the service was exactly as advertised: intuitive. Our dedicated server quickly dis­cerned our personal preferences the first day, and from there on out, she anticipated our desires before we even expressed them. It was impressive! Now think about your own life. As extraordinary as a quality cruise line is at anticipating the wants of its customers, how much more extraordinary is it that our heavenly Father actually knows the needs of his people with full certainty? He promises—faithfully and sacrificially— to meet us in our deepest dilemmas before we are even aware of the seriousness of our situation. Today’s passage in Genesis 3 is often referred to by theologians as the protoevangelium or, in plain English, the “first gospel.” Even before the effects of our first par­ents’ fall are clearly pronounced on humanity in the remainder of the chapter (see Gen. 3:16–19), God first describes a way of salvation for humanity as he addresses the serpent. Not only does God decree a solution—his Son Jesus is the solution. And this declaration happens before his image­ bearing creatures even fully understand the predicament they have entered into...

God’s Promised Deliverance Precedes Our Difficulties2023-03-24T18:14:58+00:00

Seasons of the Soul

PATSY KUIPERS|GUEST Editor's Note: The following is an adapted excerpt from Patsy Kuiper's new book, Be Still: Quiet Moments with God in my Garden. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 Nature’s Seasons I once attended a presentation where the speaker began with, “Summer, fall, and winter are seasons – spring  is a miracle.” I’ve thought about her comment every spring since. Early warm spells begin to nudge plants from their slumber in January here in the South. Witchhazel, Lenten roses, and paperbush start the floral parade that continues for multiple weeks as plants take turns in the spotlight. Trees, flowers, baby birds – all embody the joyful message of rebirth, which in turn stimulates hope and rejuvenation in us. But spring gives way to summer, and tender ephemerals[1] disappear for another year as heat-loving specimens flourish.  Summer annuals and perennials bloom, then set and disperse their seeds before beginning their decline. Fall arrives. Crops are ripe for harvest, the fruit of spring planting and summer tending. Soon daylight hours decrease, as does the temperature, and autumnal leaves create a riotous display of color – one last hurrah before they let go and blanket the ground for the winter. Ah, winter. Based on my observations, I’ve concluded it is the most misunderstood, under-appreciated season, at least from a gardening standpoint. Those unfamiliar with the ways of plants scan the leafless, apparently lifeless landscape and pronounce, “everything’s dead.” I used to think that too, but my horticulture studies dissuaded me from that notion. For instance, some seeds won’t germinate without scarification,[2] and some bulbs won’t bloom without adequate chill time. Many plants depend on the decreased daylight and increased darkness that accompany winter to flower at the appropriate time. My newfound knowledge has given me a different perspective...

Seasons of the Soul2022-05-04T23:01:02+00:00
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