My Message to the Church: Let People Suffer

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Once upon a time…for a long time…I hated the Psalms. Their only purpose seemed to reinforce the idea that suffering was quick and trivial; with a little effort, one could scrounge up some joy by simply believing that God would eventually sweep in and solve all your problems. For someone who, at the time, was considering suicide, the Psalms only served to worsen my guilt over my inability to “get over” my pain.

And then I realized I was reading them the wrong way.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes. (Psalm 6:1-3,6-7)

I was reading them the wrong way because my denomination was using them to prop up a sunny, quick-fix doctrine. Psalm 6? I might have heard it quoted twice my entire 28 years in church. Psalm 145, which says God has compassion on all He has made? Not once. But Psalm 23, 118 and 103–until I could nearly recite them backwards.

The message was that God had promised happiness and comfort for his people. So if you weren’t experiencing happiness and comfort in your walk with Him, something was wrong with YOUR faith!

And what about all those worldly people who needed to see that faith brought giddy (i.e., godly) happiness? A church full of mourners wasn’t going to convince anyone to turn to Christ.

As a result, people struggling with genuine grief and trauma in the church were shunned. Shamed. Ostracized. Ignored. Pushed into the corners. Held at arm’s length. Someone might offer to pray with you once in a blue moon or quote a cherry-picked scripture concerning “the joy of the Lord,” but no one was going to listen to you bare your soul for 20 minutes or invite you out for coffee.

I wish I could say that was then and this is now. But alas. Much of the evangelical church still lacks room and compassion for grieving people.

And the church is failing for it.

Yes, Jesus desires to bring joy to his people. And, yes, joy comes by faith and by remembering the promises of God in His Word. But I believe we, as Christians, lack understanding about what joy really is. Joy and grief are not mutually exclusive. Joy can replace grief, but it doesn’t always. Scripture shows that joy is often experienced in the midst of grief, as a source of strength that bears people through–not above–their pain:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)

We forget, too, that Jesus is particularly close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). He is the Great Physician. When he senses a hurting soul, he comes running with arms outstretched. When someone shames a grieving person, intentionally or unintentionally, they cut that person off from the savior’s embrace. They tell that person that he or she cannot be fully loved or accepted in the midst of their suffering; therefore, they must “fix themselves” in order to receive God’s blessing and favor.

Such is an anti-Christ posture.

Christ’s church was built for suffering people. Jesus called to him all who were “weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). His self-stated purpose was “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). You can’t set anyone free without first walking into their prison. Over and over, we see Jesus among the sick and in the houses of the mourning. The Early Church, following this example, was so dead set on reaching out to the disenfranchised that Roman historians labeled Christianity “the religion of women and slaves.”

Now we have drive-through churches and fast-food faith. People are leaving hungrier and the pews are getting emptier.

There is no Christ without suffering. There is no love without suffering people to lavish it on. By asking the grieving to get over it and move on, the evangelical church is denying the reality of Christ and his ministry. Look, I get it: allowing people to suffer and grieve is hard. Grief is ugly. Pain is scary. We want to rush in and fix it quickly with the right words. Carrying another person’s burdens can be exhausting. Maddening. Heartbreaking. But until we’re willing to climb down into the gutters of pain with our brothers and sisters, we’ll never experience the fullness of Christ or the depths of his love.

And the church will continue to dwindle into irrelevancy.

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12 responses to “My Message to the Church: Let People Suffer

  1. Uhm the big fail in all of this is that your eyes were always on people, expecting from people, comfort and understanding from people, you will never get that, that place solely belongs to The Lord our God alone, if your eyes are on The Lord and you acknowledge Him in all you do, no pain no suffering will be too great, and I say this, having felt how I was dying in my hospital bed, but somehow The Lord ripped me up from sinking in that dark hole pulling me down, do this day I’m standing in amazement knowing I should be dead. Suicide falls on the heart of people who are ungrateful, for like in Psalms there is always something to be grateful for, there is always hope and there should be joy even in pain. It’s not the duty of people and the church to teach you the truth, but it’s your duty to seek out the truth, seek the face of The Lord. Now someone that are being attacked by the enemy fail to see The Lord if that someone doesn’t get up and earnestly seek the face of The Lord, there is always mercy with The Lord. If you’re attacked by the enemy and you feel like not living anymore, firstly, confess your heart out until you can’t confess no more, for the enemy only has a right on you if there is sin in your life, thus we all work out our salvation ourselves. Then praise The Lord as low and down and out as you feel, there is power in your song lifted up to the heavens. The enemy can not stand praise to The Lord especially when you’ve been slapped to the ground, being trampled on by the enemy like David. If anyone and I say anyone look at the church which is the people, for we are the church, including yourself, no one but no one will want to serve The Lord, we all human, we all fail and we all fail at others’ expectations. Only expect from The Lord and acknowledge Him in all you do Proverbs 3:6. You are right about the people and the church, but then again, where we’re you when someone wanted to commit suicide? By yourself wanting to commit suicide? See we all fail because we all human and the actual work belongs to The Lord. I myself stand alone all the time, cursed by people from the church for doing The Lord’s work as commanded by The Lord Himself. Have mercy on others, then The Lord will have mercy on you, if you don’t have mercy for other or forgiveness, how will The Lord have mercy and forgiveness for you? It’s only through the grace of God that you are not standing in the shoes of those that have hurt you. It could’ve been you doing the hurting, what makes you better than that sinner? Only the grace of God. Pray for those that have done you wrong, intercede for them, that is the true quality of a true Christian, is that not what Jesus Christ would do? Carry the Fruit of the Spirit instead of bitterness, unforgiveness, blame, hatred and loathing. So that you can reach the place The Lord has set up for you and truly minister.
    Instead of speaking death, yes words have great power, speak life and continuously pray for those that you can see are going astray. Only The Lord has the power to revive the church, but alas, the end-time prophecies have to be fulfilled, so stay in the will of The Lord at all times. Not our will but His will. And if you look closely all over the world there’s is an awakening amongst the people and they are serving The Lord with great fear and passion, their first Love. Words don’t always convince a person, just like my words can not convince you now, unless the Holy Spirit convinces you. Strengths
    You have your own free will to like or dislike what The Lord had me share with you.

    • My point was that the doctrine of my church taught me that Jesus (and others) could not fully love me (and people like me) through my pain. Sadness was displeasing to God, so until I (on my own) could buck up and start grinning, Jesus was going to keep his distance. It was this theology that influenced the way I read the Psalms and hampered my efforts to draw comfort from the Bible. This theology is also (as I stated) anti-Christ and shows a profound lack of understanding of the pain of traumatized people.

    • I’m not sure I agree with you CR; if you read Acts, and the letters of Peter, James, and Paul, there are many exhortations and encouragements to the faithful reminding them to share each others trials and bear each other up. This Christianity Lite phase with it’s Calvinist emphasis on prosperity and earthly blessing is empty, and April is right, many people are crying to be fed. And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus specifically tells his disciples that those who did not comfort Him when He was sorrowing would not be going to a place prepared for them by the Father, but rather to a place where they would wail and grind their teeth. Only by ministering to the other members of His Body can we minister to Him.

  2. Wow. My faith tradition is very different, and my parents emphasized from the get-go that:
    1) we are here to help people who are suffering because that is the only way to directly minister to Christ Jesus, and
    2) in your suffering you can be more deeply united to Him if you approach it properly (no servant is greater than his master, after all; and He asked James right out, “can you drink from the cup that I must drink?”)

    A word about that cup…I think it was OUR cup He drank, but of course WE spend our time creating (or contributing to!) our own cups (at least I do!) whereas He never did anything wrong! I almost always find that I make things harder for myself and then God has to rescue me again – I can attest, He has always had compassion on this crummy little creation of His! And he hasn’t given up on me yet, which proves that His patience and hope at least are boundless…

  3. you don’t have to agree, I’m doing the Lord’s work and I’m physically involved without a church entity. I can not be there physically for every person that’s in need, that’s the Lord’s work, else I will collapse. From April’s perspective where she felt the church went wrong she needs to forgive and let go, that’s the right thing to do. And whenever something happens and The Lord allowed it, for nothing in this life happens if The Lord didn’t “ok” it, read Job, then one should ask the question why? What did I learn from this: not to rely on and expect from people; people will be people whether they’re from the church or not. And I say again, if you acknowledge The Lord in everything you do, He will make your paths smooth. Have you asked April how she ended up in so much pain? I don’t know what happened, all I got from this article is pain, anguish, resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness, yes she is sharing her experience but it’s filled with these feelings. And I say all of this coming out of similar situation, church people prayed for me once and that was it, through the years of crying and almost dying, truly discovered The Lord. I’ve done everything she did, expect the church people to preach right, help me, support me and when you’re lying on your death bed, where are they? Another thing, some people don’t want to be helped and supported, they just want the church to do for them what they expect from them. Now words are but mere words unless put into actions. As all things things happened in the past one should go forward and not look back, share your lessons and live them in a positive light. The problem I foresee in this is one Christian against another and The Lord despises that. We should help each other and the ones that are in the wrong should be forgiven no matter their place on the platform. We should speak and live the way Jesus would. Read Judas Goat by Perry Stone to fully understand what I’m trying to share with April, because it would be lovely if she can be freed from this bondage and bad memory with the love of Jesus Christ. My intent is for her best interest and the people she touches in her life. I deal with lots of people that have been burned bruised and scarred by churches, The Lord will deal with those church people accordingly, those people won’t change at anyone’s words, but only by prayer. The way one perceives the Word is fleshy until one actually perceives the Word through the Holy Spirit and no human can do that for anyone else, it depends on one’s openness to the Holy Spirit. Don’t just take people’s opinions, pray about them, pray about everything, so The Lord can show you the Truth and the Light. And I’m going to pray for that church and it’s people, Amen:)

  4. April. Butch Dean and I understand what you said. We heard.

    In my opinion, the principal problem with “right doctrine” is that the people who developed it were likely not very sophisticated thinkers. This is not surprising when one considers that one of the principal right doctrines (first out of the horse gate) is to read the Bible as very simple and and mostly literal. This is why Jesus says that only those who search diligently for him will find him. It takes hard work to find the real Jesus, as opposed to the simple, slick, domesticated Jesus they pass out like peppermint candies down at the local IFB Church.

    I will just close by validating your pain and the broken heart within you. I too am having a host of really difficult problems right now and know something of how you feel. I was having a hard time with that until you wrote your essay above and am still having problems with my pain. I had a painful childhood with parents who lived in great pain, sorrow, and deprivation. Churches were all around us. To the best of my recollection, no one in those churches came to us when we were in our pain back then, except maybe for one turkey at Thanksgiving. Too many churches have become social clubs that primarily provide fun diversions for their members only. The church will only be the church again when it gets out there and decides to be “with people” and knee deep in their pain.

  5. Wandered over here from Kenneth “The Culture Monk” Justice’s blog.
    I was taught that part of the responsibility to be a member of the church I belong to is to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” It is said as much in scriptures particular to us, and it is part of my understanding of the yoke and burden of my Master, Jesus Christ. These scriptures also say this of Him:
    “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)

  6. April,
    Thank you for sharing this. I struggled for years in the Evangelical church in feeling like I did not have a place to express my suffering. Although the people around me were very well intentioned and truly seeking to help, I was often judged just for being in therapy, let alone expressing the feelings. Yes, ultimately only God heals us from our trauma, but other human beings and being connected to them are what opens the space in which God’s love can flow. No He does not need anyone else, but He does chose to use human vessels.
    I will never forget one of the first times that I opened up and shared my struggles and the abuse that had happened to me to a very close Christian sister and her response was “Isn’t Jesus enough?” as if my problem was just that I was lacking in faith, rather than what I believe to be true, is that we work through this slowly and it is only my faith and trust in God’s provision that allows me to face the difficult work of healing. It felt incredibly invalidating. It was also very confusing to be met with love and acceptance by people who did not believe what I did, but to be rejected and scorned by the followers of Christ. I think you are making an important point about how the Church today is behaving.
    As for forgiveness, it is a process and one that sometimes takes time. God knows what is in our hearts and we need to be able to express our pain and anger before we can know that which we need to forgive. I really appreciate you being so open about this; I felt less alone reading it.
    ~ AG