I remember in college being told that every church needs a purpose statement. In fact this principle extends to even the marketplace. Wal-Mart has a statement of purpose, your local car dealer probably has a statement of purpose, even my barber has a purpose statement. However, there is one statement that the Church needs that Walmart, the car dealership, and hopefully your barber does not: a statement on suffering.
The reality is that we live in a broken world filled with broken people. We live in a Genesis 3 world and not a Revelation 21 world. Therefore, people suffer. And when people suffer people have questions. We all want answers to suffering. The church needs a robust statement on suffering. Better yet, the church needs a robust statement on suffering that fuels a meaningful response to suffering.
I hate to say it but much of what I have experienced (and even given) as a response to suffering is trite, meaningless, gospel-depleted, and frankly sickening. We often like to stare suffering in the face and assume that we have the answer: “If you will only…” Marry this to our cute little cut phrases and the churches response to suffering is so shallow that it only makes you feel better on Sunday but leaves you wrecked and without a response on Monday.
Before I go any further I need to confess that I am talking about my own response to suffering. It is easy for me to look at suffering people, give them a few religious sounding arguments, and then give them a handy little James 2 “go in peace, be warmed and filled” farewell. It hurts to enter into people’s suffering. Ministering to broken people might mean that I get even more broken. It might mean that I have to get a little too close to a lot of the garbage that is buried deep in my own heart. I don’t really want to do that, so I minister to suffering from a distance. My advice may seem pastoral but it really doesn’t help on Monday, because my ministry is not incarnational—it’s theoretical. Now, allow me to make this concrete.
Imagine with me that a man (we’ll call him Gary) comes to you for advice. Gary is a recovering (yet not recovered) alcoholic. He was abused as a child. He looked for love in all of the wrong places. He’s not only a victim though. Gary has done the same thing. He chose to go down the same path that his own father did. He is abusive. And now his wife (we’ll call her Jill) has left him. This was the one thing in his life that he thought he had going for him. He knows his abuse was wrong. He wants to change (or maybe he just wants the security of a wife back—you aren’t sure). Gary is hurting, but the only way he knows to cope is through anger, blame, denial, and Jack Daniels.
I could come up with a million different scenarios, some not as “difficult” and some with so many twists and turns you are left shaking your head. Regardless, of the scenario the church needs to have a response to this man’s suffering. How would you respond to Gary’s suffering?
Feel free to leave a few comments…I’ll do a follow up post on this tomorrow.