Certain topics have always been taboo within the church world. Well wait, taboo might be too strong a word; I suppose we can call it "uncomfortable." These topics are either skipped or skimmed over with relatively no practical application.Suffering is one of those topics.
The discussion of suffering, in the church, is like trying to find your cup holder during a movie; it's dark, frustrating and you have no point of reference. Yet, it's an important reality in life and the church needs to shed some light on it. This leads to an important and practical question, how?
I believe there are three important ways, for the church, to approach the topic of suffering. In my opinion these three areas will improve discussion and relationship with both church and non-church people on this topic.
Acknowledge suffering exists: It seems simple but when practically applied it's far from it. It's hard to talk about suffering especially with those who are currently immersed within it. However, it's important to acknowledge the "elephant in the room" because it takes the power out of speculation and puts it into context. In the long run it will provide an opportunity for someone, going through a difficult time, to talk to you.
Acknowledge we don't know why: For some reason, and pastors fall into this trap as well; we have a hard time admitting to others when we don't know something. Frankly, when someone is dealing with suffering, the worst thing to do is pretend you know the reasons why. Sure, there will be those who have made their proverbial bed and now need to lie in it, but for this discussion I'm talking about those who haven't made choices that lead to their suffering. Listening is a key component to this area.
Acknowledge the Scriptures: What a novel idea for the church world, huh!? Scripture discusses suffering in books like Job and in verses throughout the Bible. For example Romans 8:28 Paul writes "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." "The Word" (Bible) can give comfort to Christians and a door to witness to non-Christians. However, it's important to follow the first two areas (to build relationship) before you utilize this step.
Obviously these three "A's" are not the only areas you need to understand when discussing the topic of suffering but it's definitely a launching pad to further exploration. Quite honestly that's what I want you to get out of this, the desire to increase in understanding and practicality on this topic. In the words of my favorite childhood cartoon "Knowing is half the battle, G.I. Joes!"
Scott Levesque is a pastor at the Kenai New Life Assembly of God.