We have said that suffering is inevitable, that it is universal. I'd like to go one step further and say that everyone is suffering in some way, today. I know I am. Perhaps your situation is dire. A death in the family, a painful heartbreak, the loss of a job, a wayward teenager. But perhaps your situation is relatively innocuous: a harshly worded email, a few extra pounds on the scale that won't seem to go away, an unexpected car maintenance bill. All of this is suffering, and all of it is proof that the world is not as it should be! …
[But there are barriers to grappling with this honestly.] First, we project a hierarchy of suffering on to God. Someone recently forwarded me a particularly vivid example of this method of denial: "If anyone is having a bad day, remember that in 1976 Ronald Wayne sold his 10% stake in Apple for $800. Now it's worth $58,065,210,000." Translated into spiritual terms you might say, I'm having a bad day, but at least I don't have pancreatic cancer. God has too much on his plate for me to bother him with my petty concerns. He clearly cares more about starving children than he does about my seasonal depression. There may be something noble about keeping things in proper perspective, but soon we are dictating to God what he should or shouldn't care about …. Eventually we find ourselves editing our prayers along these lines, as though we were giving a political speech, rather than speaking with our heavenly Father. If the only things that qualify as suffering in your life are natural disasters or global warfare, you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding over-enthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. Shiny, happy Christians are insufferable, pun intended ….
[Second, we often insist] on a proper way to suffer. "Real men don't cry" or "In my family we keep a stiff upper lip." For instance, small group Bible studies can be wonderful times of mutual encouragement and spiritual edification. They can also be highly sanitized group enabling sessions, governed by a suffocating set of unwritten rules about what is permissible and what is not …. When an admission of suffering or weakness is interpreted as a lack of faith, honesty soon falls by the wayside, leaving the sufferer lonelier than before they offered their request. There must be a Good Friday before there can be an Easter, and if our suffering is hedged in language intended to shield God from culpability, we never get beyond the life support stage.
© 2012 Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin published by David C. Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.
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