Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carson's Pastoral Reflections on Suffering & Evil

The following notes are highlights from Carson's chapter 13, "Some Pastoral Reflections," in How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990).
When unbelievers grieve, there are opportunities for Christians to help and serve and share the gospel; but in this book I am not specifically addressing that challenge (though of course many of the same things apply).  Here I have the Christian in view.
  1. We must recognize that grief normally passes through predictable stages.
  2.  The value of recognizing that stages of grief are common, however, is that the person who is trying to offer comfort will see the telltale signs and respond appropriately.... It would do many would-be comforters good to sit down and read the moving and candidly personal book of Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, written after his twenty-five-year old son was killed in a mountain-climbing accident. 
    [Dr. Carson also references C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed in other parts of this book. Another book along similar lines recommended to me by Michael Howell, our Minister of Pastoral Care at our home church (Trinity), is Benjamin Morgan Palmer's Death in the Home: A Christian Father Responds to Loss. I would also add my recommendation of John Goldingay's Walk On; Layton Talbert's Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God and Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job; as well as these representative missionary biographies: the two-volume biography of J. Hudson Taylor, and Darlene Deibler Rose's Evidence Not Seen.]
  3. Some grief takes a long time to heal.
  4. Frequently in the midst of suffering the most comforting "answers" are simple presence, help, silence, tears.
  5. Many verbal expressions of encouragement should not be based on the assumption that they must answer an implicit "Why?"
  6. When verbalized answers to anguished cries of "Why?" are required, what and how much we provide will depend largely on what might be called our spiritual diagnosis, that tis, our assessment of the needs and capacity of the individual. 
  7. When a Christian I do not know very well asks that sort of question, my response to that question may be, "I cannot give you all the answers to your 'Why?' But you may draw courage from the fact that the one who loves you so much he died for you asked the same question: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?""
  8. There is nothing in Scripture to encourage us to think we should always be free from the vicissitudes that plague a dying world.... But where self-seeking, self-gratifying forms of Western Christianity predominate, it is essential to lay out these truths, loudly and often.
  9. For one reason or another, suffering is often associated with guilt feelings.
  10. Some forms of suffering require active intervention.
  11. In countless instances, Christians provide—they must provide—more than a counseling service or a shoulder to cry on.
  12. It is important to offer hope.
  13. It is important to help people to live one day at a time.
  14. Above all, we must help people know God better.
  15. To this end, we must pray for those who suffer.