Monday, September 22, 2014

When theology meets suffering …

When theology meets suffering … The late Yandall Woodfin, Emeritus Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated: “You have not done Christian Theology until you have dealt with suffering and death.” As I understand his statement, the application can be taken at least in a two-fold manner… personally and professionally. Personally, I get the idea the idea of how my faith and belief system, my theology, if you will grows in a formative manner through suffering and death. When I was 10 years old, my father died. That was hard for a 10 year old whose surviving family members were two sisters and a Mom. There was suffering involved with the process of life after his death. We were plunged into immediate poverty. My Mother had to find a job and in that day and time, the Beaver Cleaver days when Dad worked and Mom raised the kids, jobs for women were scarce. As it turned out, I lost my Dad to death, and my Mom to the work world. I went from the ready-made breakfasts and lunches, to a get-it-yourself way of living. We did without a lot in those days. Suffering wasn’t limited to my childhood years; it seemed to follow into adulthood. The seminary lifestyle was harsh and hard. I worked two jobs, my wife worked one. It still only hardly made ends meet. The parish pastorate had its good and bad. The good was really good and the bad were really bad. In my 25 years of the parish pastorate I met some of the most godly, God-fearing, God-serving, God-loving people. I also met some of the most horrid people who ever walked on the earth. The latter defined suffering and often were agents of suffering. When I entered into hospice chaplaincy, I discovered a new facet of suffering. Every day I went to work, I discovered suffering from new perspective. Men suffered, women suffered, children suffered … the pangs of life-limiting illness, the sense of loss of nearly everything they worked for or lived for, the reality that their lives would be cut short. With this suffering, there was the suffering of the families and caregivers… the suffering of loss. The suffering of children stricken with diseases that have such monikers as Hurler’s Disease and Epidermolysis bullosa can take the wind out of the Chaplain’s theological sails. How does a Chaplain make it work theologically? So as to not lecture those with strong theological education and come across offensive and arrogant, I will simply offer my own understanding of how I process suffering from my theological formation (which is unapologetically Christian): 1. I look at the beginning of suffering from Genesis. 2. I look at the resolution of suffering from Revelation. 3. I seek understanding of God’s view of justice. 4. I attempt to understand God’s providence. 5. I look to the Cross. If this provides you with an addition framework for your theology of suffering, then this post will have been successful. Dig deep in your soul as your process suffering and theology. Bless you, Chaplains, as you work with Common Man who suffers.

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