[T]he church consists of people who are incorporated into Christ and each other like the ingredients of a cake: none for himself, but instead each is blended with the others in the fellowship of love. Luther himself depended on the “consolation of the brethren” (consolatio fratrum) whenever he suffered inner turmoil and temptation – especially in the year 1527, when he was plagued by illness, the loss of friends, and various forms of Anfechtung. Communion meant true communication with Luther, through word and sacrament, in the giving of oneself to Christ and to one’s neighbor. Just as Christ emptied himself for the world on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11), so the Christian is to empty himself to his neighbor in love.
– Erich W. Gritsch, quoted in Embodied Hope, p. 132.
God freely employs the faith of others, expressing itself through prayer, to sustain and uphold the faith of the suffering Christian. Faith is not simply the means through which a person becomes a Christian but also the essential manner of the Christian life. The wounded believer often depends on other saints to sustain them through seasons of suffering…Yes, the individual was called to believe, but the faith can in fact only be lived within an organic connection to the locally constituted church. One of the regular ways the body of Christ maintains its health, even as parts of the body are attacked with disease, is for the other parts to carry some extra weight. When a person’s ankle is broken, they instinctively place more weight on the strong leg. This is not because they despise the weak leg but because it can only return to full health if its burden is borne by the other limb. Similarly, Christians bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:1-5)….Thus in our own distress, when we find it easy to doubt God’s grace and provision, the body of Christ gives shelter and sustenance under the canopy of their faith. As the body of Christ we can together face any worries about divine apathy, judgment, or abandonment. The flame of individual faith weakens when it is alone, but in true community the fire of faith illumines the night.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, pp. 126-127.
Far too often we sound like Job’s friends when we encounter those who suffer, whether from tragic events or physical pain. We start out strong, offering our sympathy and support. Job’s friends sat silent with him for seven days and seven nights. They even lay there in the ashes with him, trying to show him “sympathy and comfort” (Job 2:11). Yet after the accepted time of mourning was over, they clearly had expectations of progress and resolve. After that accepted period, however, Job did not finally speak into the silence as a calm stoic. No, he spoke as a frustrated believer who laments his birth, which has now led to heartbreak rather than happiness (Job 3). He lives in pain:
For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes. (Job 3:25-26)
With this break in the silence his friends begin to speak, even aware that their words may provoke his impatience (Job 4:1-2). But they speak, and so do we. As time moves on, we expect the wounded person to get better; we expect their frustrations and questions to turn into stoic acceptance. We expect denial or victory – ongoing struggle is the option we are most uncomfortable with, yet that is exactly where most who live with ongoing pain and suffering actually are.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 65.
One important result of practicing an awareness of our mortality is that it can breed a greater concern for divinely given relationships. Historically, such heavenly mindedness was not meant to belittle this world but to value it, and to encourage the keeping of short accounts and always living in the present. You shouldn’t hold a grudge or harbor hostility because you never know if you might die without making things right. When someone is aware of the brevity of life, each day can be received as a gift, offering opportunities and meaning not for some imaginary future but fully living in the moments that God has provided. Knowledge of death can also liberate people to live with courage in the present, even when it is risky: all die at some point, so be courageous and do the right thing since God will not let death be the final word. A sober awareness of a person’s mortality can mean freedom from making self-preservation the highest value. In our day we often live somewhere between fear of the past and the demanding possibilities of a mythical future. The untiring call of the future – with its grand plans to be accomplished, vacations to be had, retirements to be enjoyed – can become so strong it swallows our ability to live in the now. This often means people fail to be fully present, to live in the moment. We neglect spouses and children, disregard care for our bodies, and dismiss relationships that naturally require time and attention as an impossible luxury. We fall into this trap all the more easily when we are not mindful of our weakness and mortality.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, p. 61.
The human experience requires lament, at least as long as we live in the current world as we know it. Biblically there can be no question about the place and need of this practice – sin and sickness mean we must create space for genuine lamentation. Not because we despair but because we recognize the wounds of this world and of our hearts. God instructs us to bring to him our tears, our hurts, our confusion. Old Testament scholar Daniel J. Simundson reminds us of this scriptural tradition:
The lament allows for honest interchange between humans and God, the freedom to admit even bad theology and hostile thoughts. The lament turns to God as the ultimate source of help and, in the typical lament form, ends with the assurance that God has heard and will save. The lament does not solve all of the sufferer’s intellectual questions about the origin and meaning of the suffering, but does provide a structured way for the faithful to bring their suffering to God’s attention and to cope with it.
If we do not restore space for lament in our individual and corporate church life, our suffering will drive us not only away from others but away from God himself.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, p. 31.
Appreciated the wisdom of this answer. Hope this is helpful to others.
Over at the CCEF website you can find a recent article by David Powlison on this hugely important topic. I highly recommend that you take some time to look it over.. (HT:MA)