Suffering and Outreach – A Pastoral Reflection

By Anthony Gammage “How could such a good and loving God allow my Mom to die such a horrific death?” a student asked me from across the table in the student union at James Madison University. I sat dumbfounded, totally unable to respond to his question. Given that I too had experienced death and suffering in my own life, I should have been able to easily respond. But like many of us, I move quickly through my suffering while failing to develop a Biblically informed theology I can apply to my life, or communicate to others.

I have found that the topic of suffering is THE issue I get asked about most when talking to others about Christ. We live in a time and culture that has no grid for suffering. One of the dangers of a pluralistic society such as ours is that we beg, borrow and steal from many different religions and worldviews to develop a grid for things like suffering. The result is often a grid that has no real logic or moorings. And that leaves us hopeless. Even in the church, our philosophy of suffering can feel more like the karma of Eastern religions than real biblical Christianity. Suffering is a reality for all of us. So how can we be proactive in developing a grid for both ourselves and others as we live life in a broken world?

  • Build Your Arsenal – Study and memorize what the Bible says about this topic.
  • Journal – We waste a lot of our suffering simply because we rush through it and don’t process it ourselves. Journaling enables us to process our suffering, develop our own grid and reference key ideas for the future.
  • Read ahead – What are other Christian thinkers and pastors saying about this topic? Keller’s Reason For God and Walking with God through Pain and Suffering are some of the best resources out there. A Sacred Sorrow and How Long, O Lord? are excellent as well.
  • Talk About It – You aren’t the only sufferer in the world! Talk about it with other believers and be encouraged by God’s faithfulness to them. Gain wisdom from saints who have walked the road of grief before you. Process your grief in places like GriefShare (a ministry at NLD). Enter into the messiness of life with non-Christian neighbors and listen, love, and serve them as they grieve.