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Suffering for the Wrong Reasons---June 7


All the passages below are taken from Philip Yancey’s book “Grace Notes---Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim,” published in 2009.


I have come to believe that the chief contribution Christians can make is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons. We can "honor" pain. In the most important sense, all pain is pain; it does not matter whether the pain comes from migraine headaches or strep throat or acute depression. The first step in helping a suffering person (or in accepting our own pain) is to acknowledge that pain is valid, and worthy of a sympathetic response. In this way, we can begin to ascribe meaning to pain.

At a different level, Christians apply a further set of values to suffering. Visitor to a hospital bedside can heap coals of fire on the suffering. We can add guilt: "Haven't you prayed? Have you no faith that God will heal you?" Or confusion: "Is Satan causing this pain? Just natural providence? Or has God specially selected you as an example to others?" Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt, I have learned. We all do things we shouldn't, and when pain strikes, it's easy to blame ourselves for what has happened.

In a context of intense suffering, even well-intended comments may produce a harmful effect. "God must have loved your daughter very much to take her home so soon," we may be tempted to say, leaving the bereaved parents to wish that God had loved their daughter less. "God won't give you a burden heavier than you can bear"; the suffering person may wish for weaker faith that might merit a lighter burden.

I have interviewed enough suffering people to know that the pain caused by this kind of bedside response can exceed the pain of the illness itself. One woman well known in Christian circles poignantly described the agony caused by TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). The pain dominates her entire life. Yet, she says, it hurts far worse when Christians write her with judgmental comments based on their pet formulas of why God allows suffering. Perhaps the chief contribution a Christian can make is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons.

Where Is God When it Hurts? (198-99)


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