Friday, September 7, 2012

Religion in Suffering

             Most of us would prefer to avoid suffering if we could. Sometimes suffering comes as a result of many things including stressful situations, sickness, loss, or natural disaster. Suffering any trial causes people emotional and physical distress. Belinda Deal, a nurse who frequently encounters people who are suffering in a hospital setting, describes the relationship between suffering and religion and says “Suffering is a spiritual matter, and understanding the patient’s spiritual and religious background gives the nurse an insight into how patients make meaning of suffering.” In her article, she states several religious views to suffering, however as Christian counselors we know that suffering is a result of the fall and a focus on our circumstances and our fallen world is suffering. She quotes Frankl, a prisoner of the Nazis from the WWII, “If a prisoner lost faith in the future- his future- was doomed. With the loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and become subject to mental and physical decay.” Suffering physically and emotionally is interconnected with the hopelessness of no religion. As counselors we can choose to guide our clients in two directions “God as the source of strength, or source of suffering.” One of these options encourages genuine hope, and the other seeks to find responsibility for the source of trials.  
         We live in a society where it is really easy to see God as the source of suffering because He is in control. We often ask “Why God?” and can become bitter and frustrated by the circumstances. However I am not sure if I agree with Ms. Deal when she writes “If patients can find meaning in their suffering, they can endure the suffering.” It makes sense that we sometimes ask our Creator why he created pain and suffering, for the reason that we would like to avoid it for the future. However often those answers never come, and we are left with unanswered questions. Since suffering is universal and unavoidable we have to help one another through the trying times. As counselors and as people encountering suffering, we can choose to include God in these trials or not. If we choose to exclude God from our suffering, then can we really blame him for it? Excluding God from our suffering causes us to look elsewhere for reconciliation. But really… where is true reconciliation found, apart from the love and grace of God?

                We need to include God as essential to our counseling for he is our hope in the times of suffering. Jesus Christ suffered for us so we can have hope from an eternity of suffering. When we include God in our suffering, and counseling of suffering, we invite the source of suffering, and the one who suffered the most to answer the questions and bring the reconciliation we seek. Psalm 118: 8- 14 says

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
All the nations surround me,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them down. 
They surrounded me on every side, 
but in the name of the LORD I cut them down.
They swarmed around me like bees,
but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation. 

Religion and suffering are interconnected. We can choose to ignore this fact, or recognize it and work with it. I choose to look at it as a blessing in counseling and life that we have God on our side, to be with us in the sufferings. As the verses say we can ask him to be our refuge, strength and defense. We can go to God as the healer, peacemaker and savior. We all will continue to face sufferings, but with God and the acceptance of Christ as our savior, we can have hope for a comforted future.
Mercy Me, a popular Christian band, recently came out with a song called “Hurt and the Healer” (video below with lyrics). May I encourage you to listen and read the lyrics and consider making God your source of hope in your suffering and counseling.

Blessings to you,
Carly Schneider

I also recommend reading the article for it presents other interesting perspectives to counseling. Belinda Deal's experience in hospital suffering offers great insight to counselors of all faiths. The article is accessible to students of Liberty University through the Lucas portal, or is available for purchase at this link.

Deal, B. (2011, July/August) Finding meaning in suffering. Holistic Nursing Practice. 25 (4):205-210, doi: 10.1097/HNP.0b013e31822271db.

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