Why a blog on caring for the souls of the suffering? Why a conglomeration of everything that I can get my hands on regarding suffering?
Because those who suffer are the most likely to be harmed by the church and by those who care for souls.
There are, of course many objections to this claim. Many may point to a specific program–a divorce recovery group, an addictions recovery group, a small group for those grieving the loss of a loved one, a mentorship program for leading financially struggling families to stability. These are all good things–ministries and programs that should not be simply tossed away.
In terms of programming and budgeting, many churches and pastors would identify that they do indeed care for the suffering, thank you very much. However, what causes those who are suffering to be so often mistreated is not a programming problem in the organization, but a commitment to Gospel living in the lives of individuals.
The Gospel is built for those who are suffering (it’s built for everyone, but there are very specific applications to those who are suffering), and if we are Gospel people, we will be, too. But we are so often caught up in the victory of the Gospel, the shame and pain which purchased the Gospel, that we have no idea how to handle someone who grieves for a long time.
Those who suffer can be perceived to be lacking faith–living with pain, some say, surely is not trusting God. Those who are taking a long time to move on from a specific event from suffering–or, longer than some think they should–are often treated with skepticism instead of sincerity. Our methods of helping one another are often guilt-driven: “Well, there are millions of people who have it worse than you, so be thankful that God didn’t make you like one of them” is really not helpful to someone’s recovery. When called on by a friend in need, we often give them some kind of advice that can be summarized as “take two verses and call me in the morning.”
Perhaps, what really is our greatest crime, is that we have not clue how to be silent in the present of another’s suffering. So we multiply words and talk a lot, never really hearing what they other person is saying. In contrast, Proverbs declares that “whoever restrains his words has knowledge” (17:27) and “when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (10:19). Silence, when caring for the suffering, is to be treasured more than speech.
Yes, those who are suffering are the most likely to be harmed by the church, because we do not understand God’s purposes in suffering, and because we do not know how to perceive our own suffering in light of His providence. So, we offer blithe answers and saccharine sermons to those in pain, never actually seeking to help them.
Choose the narrow path when coming to care for the suffering: stay silent, and speak little. This is the first step toward helping.