Absorbing the Pain of Others

Compassion at heart is to suffer with someone, to enter their pain, shoulder their suffering and walk with them in their valley. Stanley Hauerwas hits the nail on the head in his discussion on the appropriate posture of Christians toward the problem of evil…we need a pastoral posture rather than a philosophical stance.

“For the early Christians, suffering and evil . . . did not have to be ‘explained.’ Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be ‘explained’—that is, it was important not to provide a theoretical account of why such evil needed to be in order that certain good results occur, since such an explanation would undercut the necessity of the community capable of absorbing suffering.”

This gets to the heart of the matter, how are we genuinely going to help one another on the journey of faith? Answers can only go so far in the service of a suffering brother or sister. Putting your arm around a limping friend and walking with them, sweating with them, hurting with them, crying with them, having no answers with them…that is a completely different story.

The goal on the journey of faith is to stay on the path and make it to the end. Analyzing the roadblocks will not ultimately accomplish this objective. Sharing the journey and being present to one another through the roadblocks will move us toward perseverance on the road.

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10 comments

  1. Good post, Kory. It’s back to the ministry of Jesus himself, who came here to sweat and cry and hunger and grow tired with us. “Having no answers with them” is an important point too. Too much talk and not enough empathy…that’s a roadblock to true companionship.

  2. Our church staff has been preaching on 1 Cor. 13 lately. Last Sunday, our student pastor went over vs. 7: Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. He drew strong connections to Life Groups and relationships in general in the church. We don’t quit on each other if we love each other. I’m reminded of your Companioning post too. There’s certainly room for counsel, advice and seeking wisdom. But when I’ve been at my lowest, I mainly needed support and encouragement (love) not answers. It was eye opening to a person who continually seeks to understand.

  3. Kory, your post resonates well with John Swinton’s book Raging With Compassion. His basic tenet as I understand it is that the Christian community must be spiritually equipped to walk, cry, accompany a brother or sister tramatized by evil. This community must have in place the practices/devotions/small faith sharing communities that don’t remain silent about the evil but whose very presence evokes faith and hope. As a Catholic priest and pastor, I pray daily for the grace to forge this kind of community within the parish I serve. His chapter on friendship and hospital communities further develop your thesis.

    1. Mike, so great to hear from you my friend. Yes, the connection to Swinton’s book is spot on—love that book. Your comments and thoughts were spot on—communities devoted to faith and practice that enables believers to continue to hope and believe in the midst of trauma and evil. Any building blocks you would suggest for building these types of communities?

      Thanks for jumping on here and engaging!

      1. WOW that’s a challenging question, ‘what building blocks could build these communities of compassion?!?!?!’

        Kory, the obvious, but complex answer is the example and compassion of Jesus Christ himself as the best building block for forming a community of compassion.

        Pope Francis in his writings on this Jubilee Year of Mercy examines the passage from Mark 1:40-45.

        Here we have the miraculous healing of the leper through the touch of our Savior; ‘he stretched out his hand and touched the leper and said to him, ‘I will it; be clean (Mk 1:43). Jesus is moved with compassion at the leper’s condition – Jesus is repulsed by the evil that prevents this man, this beloved friend of Jesus from communion of life and love. Jesus’ touch in this situation demonstrates a loving God, who does not come to give a lesson on pain and a philosophy of the problem of evil, but rather He comes to take upon Himself the burden of our human condition and carries it to the end (Calvary).

        We, baptized in the Lord are called to be ‘imitators of Christ’ (Cor 11:1) so we too are called to look the suffering brother or sister in the eye and not be afraid to touch, not be afraid to love in a radical way. As a disciple, we will not avoid the hurt of our brother or sister but we willing enter with them into that suffering so that CHRIST might be made known and He made transform it. Do we have enough faith that Christ can transform evil and suffering? Without that faith we will try to remedy the suffering and evil with everything BUT Christ.

        The experience of Christ’s love and mercy are the building blocks of being the kind of community of believers that as you say, absorbs the pain of our brothers and sisters.

        I am a searching disciple on the journey, therefore any insight offered from a fellow believer is welcomed!!

      2. Mike, such wonderful thoughts here, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate the example you gave about Christ reaching out and touching the untouchable, sharing the pain of the leper and ultimately absorbing the suffering that brought the healing. I like how you point out that there is no philosophical discussion about the leper’s pain, just action. So then, as we imitate Christ and follow his example we will engage in the same manner that he did…we will walk fearlessly into pain and shoulder it with others. I’m hearing you say that the incarnation is a critical building block in building these communities…loving it. You touch on the cross in your comment…I would throw that into the mix as well as an important building block. We see the compassion of God in absorbing pain in a very unique way at Calvary—here he takes into himself all the suffering that sin has merited. He shoulders our pain—even the suffering due those who are hurling insults and mocking are absorbed in that moment.

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