What the sufferer really needs.
Maybe you are familiar with the popular idiom “Rub some dirt on it and walk it off.” In the sports world it’s a phrase, often said in jest, to help an injured teammate grin a little. Popular music tells us to just “shake it off” when we are hurting. As pop advice goes, these may supply a smidgen of comfort like a smiley face Band-Aid applied to the vast jagged tear in the soul that is suffering. Yet does it really reach the depth and width of the chasm of personal suffering?
Jesus, the one who would cry out the words, “God why have you forsaken me”, which the inspired Psalmist wrote a thousand years earlier, understood suffering. He still does. Dr. Welch points out “...the Lord usually says the equivalent of ‘Please, tell me more.’ You will never hear him minimize your suffering or toss out an impersonal bromide as he heads off to advise someone else. Instead, he is the compassionate and gracious God who has a particular attraction to those who need help.”
It would stand to reason that those who live in the Kingdom of the suffering King, those who are called to be His ambassadors, the ones who are to be the face of the great King to a weary and suffering world, would be the very ones to whom souls in anguish turn first. Yet, the outcasts, social lepers, diseased, oppressed, depressed, and forsaken seem to shy away from the Kingdom which is also called by the divinely inspired apostle, the body of Christ. Even worse, this earthly representation of the divine body, though well-meaning, unintentionally causes the spirit of the injured members to shrivel up and fall off; blackened appendages that crumble to dust.
Rarely, if ever, do any of us go through life without suffering and grief. I have a chronic incurable, progressive, disease, invisible to others, which causes vertigo, a lack of balance, and sometimes serious injuries from falling. The disease took me away from the ministerial vocation and the church I loved. It crushed me and ground me to a pulp. So, I took great interest in Dr. Welch’s blog post.
The first time someone said to me, “Won’t you be glad when you’ve learned the lesson God is teaching you and this is all over?” I wondered if their God was an abusive Father waiting to smack me on the back of the head every time I needed to learn something or every time I stepped out of line. I can’t count the number of fellow pastors and elders who have offered to, and actually have, laid hands on me and prayed for my healing, yet God has not chosen to heal me. Dr. Welch lists other ways well-intentioned Christians hurt those who are hurting. I have experienced every one he listed and then some. Some, not so well-intentioned Christians, don’t understand the effects of the condition and can be quite cruel and denigrating regarding the sufferer.
The person who did the most to comfort and help me, a good friend who has battled Leukemia in his own suffering for many years, simply, humbly gently befriended me and showed me he was there for me. This is where Ephesians 4:2 is so important. We are to walk before our King and before those who are in what one old movie called the pit of despair, a pilgrim’s slough of despond. We are to be there in compassion and humility to let the suffering soul know they are loved.
People who suffer don’t want more trite phrases and snake oil salespersons. They know they sin every day and usually don’t need someone to pour salt in their already wounded and sin-burdened heart. They need a church who seeks out the suffering sinners, the outcasts, the fringe people and touches their hearts with humility, compassion, and true friendship. They need to know the Gospel of the Kingdom’s power, presence, and promise is for them through the humility and compassion of others in the Kingdom. For then, they will see the suffering Sovereign who knows they are hurting, walks alongside them, and looks forward in hope with them to that glorious day he says “welcome home”.