In Defense of the 2015 Caribbean Study Cruise from Ligonier Ministry on the Topic of Suffering

As soon as Ligonier put out their brochure on their cruise the mockery began on the internet. The point being made behind all the negative and sarcastic remarks can be easily summarized: “Isn’t it a remarkable contradiction to propose such an extravagantly luxurious cruise as the location to discuss the topic of suffering among Christians?” In other words, look at this Titanic-sized ship! Its opulent nature and the destination offer the image of ease, contentment, peace, and ultimately, of anything, BUT suffering. Wealth and a cruise ship=the contradiction of the very message its speakers wish to convey. a

Now, I am no contrarian, though I find myself contradicting various modern narratives on the issue of counseling, specifically in suffering. I am a pastor. I have been involved in counseling for some time now. I am finishing a certification in counseling precisely because I care so much about offering hope in the most biblically accurate way possible. I love people. People in all stages of life. Old and young. Suffering and not suffering. I grew up in one of the poorest regions in Brazil and have been here in this glorious country for long enough to affirm that human beings in both Third World countries and First World countries share one thing in common: they all suffer. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, the white, the black, the red-haired, etc. Further, I have also learned that suffering is a much broader category than the starving children in Africa (the conservative narrative) or the suffering polar-bears in the cosmic attack against nature called Global Warming (the liberal narrative).

Suffering is fundamentally the prolonged state of joylessness. Now, can we have joy through suffering? Yes. Philippians is written to address these issuess. Some of the speakers will be addressing precisely how to deal with suffering as God intended. The reason many will attend this cruise is precisely because they lack understanding in how to achieve shalom through trials. Many, perhaps, are filled with pain over the loss of a loved one, some may have dealt with a recent divorce, a few may have endured years of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of wicked people, and some may simply be coming for the ride for an opportunity to meet Dr. R.C. Sproul, a renowned and faithful servant of God.

So, if you are asking whether a cruise through the Caribbean is the right environment to discuss these topics, then the answer is self-evident. If you and your husband have lost a child, is that not suffering? If someone has abused you emotionally and you are seeking refuge from the barrage of false information that has only made you feel greater shame and pain, is that not suffering? If you have experienced the trials of barrenness and had your hopes up after the pregnancy test only to discover two weeks later that you had your fourth miscarriage, is that not suffering?

As a counselor, if time allows and if you could take time away from work for a few days, I would recommend taking a few days off exploring the beauty of creation in a comfortable cruise meditating on biblical truth in the peace and quiet of God’s perfect art work.

Pain and suffering cannot be defined only as outward expressions of need. The heart suffers. The mind suffers. Suffering needs to be addressed to the rich and poor and to the middle-class. Suffering affects the whole man.

  1. Our teaching topics will cover persevering in the Christian life, looking to Christ’s call to endure persecution and suffering faithfully, and I am excited that Drs. Stephen Nichols and R.C. Sproul Jr. will be joining me as we look at what God’s Word has to tell us about this subject.  (back)
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