suffering

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

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)
Darkness is my Closest Friend

Darkness is my Closest Friend

I have been reading my former seminary professor’s work Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. It’s a journey. A long one. The basic thesis is that we prefer to taste the luxury of food offered to idols than the bread of heaven. We have forgotten to long for the Promised Land. We prefer the Egyptian culture.

Chuck DeGroat really brings to life this paradox of our journeys from real counseling sessions and personal life-stories. I will be interviewing Chuck at a later Trinity Talk episode, but one clear message from the book is how much we underestimate suffering. Suffering is usually cheapened with even cheaper slogans.

Psalm 88, that psalm of abandonment, is full of realness. In the realness, there is constant suffering.  The Psalmist writes:

You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.

The Psalmist feels abandoned in Job-like manner; so abandoned that darkness becomes his closest ally in grief. The pain is real. As Chuck DeGroat observes:

As much as we believe that God can redeem our journey through the wilderness, we should never underestimate its destructive force.

We cannot trivialize suffering and its force. The pain is not to be taken lightly and neither is the journey. The journey brings rough winds and those winds push us around with remarkable ease. The weaker we are the more damage it does to us.

I have just returned from preaching a funeral of a parishioner who committed his life to abandoning God. In his brief time in our congregation he sought death vociferously. But while he sought death he was confronted with the message of life many times. I believe he accepted that message though his garments were stained with fire, as Jude says. This is not the life we have been called to live. We were not created to live in Egyptian bondage. Our bondage was meant as a prelude to glory. In desiring Egypt we become addicted to more suffering and forget that God is preparing us to “flourish in the land flowing with milk and honey. a

Death waits with open arms. Suffering is real. We should not trivialize its force. But at the same time we should desire new companions (Ps. 1). Darkness is the friend of abandonment. At times these are genuine Christian laments. But in lamenting we also remember that God is still the God of our salvation. The Psalmist who laments is the Psalmist who trusts in his God.

  1. DeGroat, 82  (back)