Saturday, July 09, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Suffering

Sometimes people see the suffering of others and then feel compelled help. Many mistakes have been made by trying to relieve the suffering caused by injustice without addressing the underlying injustice or by trying to relieve someone else‘s suffering when the relief is unwarranted. Some suffering is good; suffering causes most people to get stronger or make changes. Injustice is never good. Taken as a whole, the New Testament usually shows the effects of suffering and then prescribes our response to suffering in the context of the injustice that caused the suffering.

I love to see my daughters suffer through a homework assignment. I love to see them suffer as they do their chores. Sometimes I will help to relieve their suffering, but I will never remove their suffering that comes from doing homework or chores because they need the suffering of homework and chores in order to develop their brains and their discipline. I love to suffer as I run an extra lap at the track. I don’t love the pain, but I know it is worth the extra effort to keep my heart strong. I absolutely hated the suffering that came with thirteen weeks of boot camp. Left to my own, I would have quit a million times. Thankfully, we have leaders in this country who understand the importance of suffering. What does “Take up YOUR cross and follow me” mean if it doesn’t mean to prepare to suffer and then suffer?

There are people who think the solution to the problems in Africa is for the developed world to end the suffering. They are wrong. Suffering is never ended by relieving suffering. Suffering is only extended by relieving suffering. There are some people who think prayer and missions and conversions will relieve the suffering in Africa. The are probably also wrong.

There was a time in the United States when a very large percentage of the population were believers; similar to today. However, during this time there was also a lot of suffering. Human beings were being bought and sold and traded and whipped and punished and sometimes even starved and murdered without retribution. The majority of slave owners were believers. It is easy for us to see now that it was a corrupted belief, but it doesn’t change the fact that they considered Christ Lord.

Imagine what would have happened to the institution of slavery in the United States if the solution to the suffering of the slaves was for the debts of the plantation owners to be forgiven and then have the northern population start sending aid to the south. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be writing this in English if the ONE Campaign solution was the solution to slavery in the United States during that period of our history.

President George W. Bush has proven to be a modern day Churchill in regards to Iraq. Nothing short of a modern day Lincoln, and more than a few modern day Yankees, who are willing to suffer, will end the injustice and the resulting suffering in Africa. Concerts by self-indulgent and pampered celebrities are an insult to Africans and everyone else who understands that good intentions rarely equal good results without the appropriate amount of suffering. Sometimes believers must oppose other believers when those other believers are wrong. I wish we all thought with the same mind, but we don’t.


Jennifer said...


I appreciate where you're coming from here, and I hear what you're saying. I am a little confused though. Didn't Jesus end people's suffering - by causing the lame to walk, giving sight to the blind, healing leporsy, etc.?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Jennifer,

No need to be confused. Jesus wanted the religious leaders and most of the people of his time to know that individual suffering is not always a result of the sin of the individual who is suffering. The lame, the blind, and those with leprosy were the perfect examples of individuals who were suffering as a result of injustice. These people were unjustly labeled as sinners. They were being outcast and punished for birth defects that were no fault of their own. Jesus healed them to make a point about justice.

Children born with AIDS in Africa are in a similar position. I still don’t think it would be moral for our government to be use tax money to treat these children, but I think our Churches should be involved with helping them. Possibly, our government can negotiate a deal with the drug makers to extend patents in exchange for lower prices across the board for AIDS related drugs.

Adults who are not willing to do what it takes to end their own suffering, including overthrowing a corrupt leader, are partly to blame for their own suffering. Relief comes in the form of building irrigation systems, planting crops, raising goats, and in some cases, removing corrupt dictators by force.

BTW, the discussions on your site have been quite fun lately. I hope we are still buds! :-)

Jennifer said...

Absolutely we're still buds! I'm thrilled that you've contributed so much to the conversation. Thanks for answering my question.

Buz said...


You sure seem to be spending a lot of magnetic force on this Live8/African thing ...

I will say two things about it.

(1) Charity never used to be the focus of tax monies. Charity had always been considered a matter of the heart, the individual heart. If I choose to donate $20 of my hard earned money to some cause, it was a matter of my own character and where I had fixed my personal priorities. If Sen. Snort confiscates my $20 through a tax bill, and then donates that money to someone else, it does not reflect my character because I did not choose beneficience, nor does it reflect his, because it cost him nothing to do it. King David was once offered a gift for the purpose of sacrificing to God. He refused and insisted that he pay a fair price. He said that he would not offer something which cost him nothing. If only our leaders would learn that.
(2) I have never been overly impressed with the wisdom of performers.

[Jennifer ... Jesus ended what suffering that people were unable to end on their own. The people whom He healed, the blind, the lame, and the demon-possessed, were unable to heal themselves. I don't remember anywhere that Jesus or the disciples gave money to beggars.]


Hammertime said...

great post on this continuing thread of yours. Keep it up! I have issue with only one line - that a large percentage of the population are beleivers. Our country does not reflect that. What is does reflect is a culture in which anyone can claim they are a believer with no significant negative consequence.

Buzz - good note on the beggars. I never thought of that.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Thanks for stopping by on your blogging days. I always feel better when you chime in.

I have no way to judge the hearts of 280 million people. In most surveys, 90% of Americans say they believe in God and a high percentage of those say they are Christian. Surely, many people are cultural Christians, but they claim to believe in the same God we worship.

By observing the actions of Americans, and then comparing the actions of Americans to the ideals of Christianity, it would appear that most Americans do not place their faith above other aspects of our culture. So if we take people at their word, we have one view, but if actions speak louder than words, we have a different view. I just don’t know for sure.