When I hear pastors or professors teach on suffering they almost always address “The Problem of Evil.” They try to answer the question, “If God is good, loving, and powerful, then why do bad things happen? Why do children get abused? Why do parents die when their children are young? Why storms ravage communities? etc…”
These are important questions. However, no one (Christian or other faith system) has articulated an answer that is satisfying to the person who is suffering intensely. When you weigh personal pain in one hand and a philosophical answer in the other, pain always weighs more.
But I believe in focusing almost exclusively upon the problem of evil, the church has neglected developing answers to another set of very important pastoral questions about suffering:
- How does suffering affect the sufferer — emotionally, relationally, spiritually, etc…? The answers to this question can vary greatly based upon the type of suffering under consideration.
- How does suffering — based on intensity and/or duration — begin to affect the identity of the sufferer?
- What characteristic lies does a given form of suffering most commonly introduce into the life of the sufferer?
- How do we healthily grieve the wrongness of suffering without renouncing the goodness of God?
- How does the gospel offer comfort for suffering; not just forgiveness for whatever sin we may commit while we’re suffering?
- How do we create objectives, rooted in Scripture, to overcome the effects of suffering without falling into the trap of thinking “if I could do something to make my situation better, then it must have been my fault”?
- How to we gauge when we are ready to steward our suffering in ministry without feeling pressured by God (forgetting His tender patience)?
These are vitally important questions for the church to answer if we want to be as skilled at applying the gospel to suffering as we are at applying the gospel to sin.
Here is our attempt, at the Summit counseling ministry, to wrestle with this issue. In our Freedom Group material we created two nine step models. One for how the gospel speaks to sin (9 Steps (sin)); another for how the gospel speaks to suffering (9 Steps (suffering)). In the video below, intended for training our lay leaders, I outline the nine steps for suffering.
We currently have two Freedom Group curriculum based upon this nine step model for suffering:
- True Betrayal — for those whose spouse is caught in sexual sin
- Grief — for those who have lost a loved one
In the coming years we plan to continue to develop more Freedom Group curriculum for sin-based and suffering-based struggles. In this post, my hope was to highlight the need to develop gospel-centered resources that speak to suffering pastorally (the effects of suffering) not just philosophically (the problem of evil).