Developing a Theology of Suffering - The Warrior's Journey®
Post Traumatic Stress

Developing a Theology of Suffering

Author: Dean Bonura, USA (Ret.)

110223-F-SF570-064. Photo by The U.S. Air Force is licensed under CC By 2.0

The following excerpts come from Beyond Trauma by Dean Bonura.

Tragedy Is a Universal Experience

Tragedies happen every day. It was no different in Jesus’s day, and people wondered why. Why do the innocent suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Apparently, during the Passover feast, while the Galileans were making their yearly sacrifices, Pilate had them killed. We don’t know much about this incident; no extra-biblical historical record exists to provide details. In Jesus’s day, another event also occurred that led to questions. During what might have been the construction of an aqueduct near the pool of Siloam, a tower collapsed and fell on eighteen construction workers. All of them perished.

People are always looking for reasons behind tragedies. We are always asking, “Why?” It would appear that neither the Galilean massacre nor the collapse of the tower had any clear cause. The Galileans were just worshipping God. The construction crew was just doing their job. They were ordinary people, no different from other Galileans or people who lived in Jerusalem.

So it is with tragedies; we do not usually know the reasons for them. We can only deal with the effects. So it is with war. War is full of tragedies and traumatic events, and many of them contribute to problems and questions much like those posed to Jesus.

This is how Jesus handles their questions: He says to them, in effect, “Learn from these events. Life is unpredictable, and bad things happen to innocent people.” He takes this further, concluding with an illustration of an unproductive fig tree. The landowner wants to cut it down. But the gardener pleads with the landowner, “Give it another year. Maybe with a little cultivation, it will produce some figs?” The unproductive fig tree illustrates the unproductive life—a life lived for self. The landowner is God and is about to render judgment on the tree. But Jesus pleads with the Father to allow the unproductive tree—that is, the person—a little more time to make his life matter.

Christ’s Suffering as a Paradigm for Understanding Our Own Suffering

Through the death of Christ and all of his suffering throughout his life, we learn about our own suffering (Heb. 5:7–9). We discover the meaning of our suffering.  His passion moves us beyond the problem of evil and sin. It teaches us about the meaning of sacrifice and the purpose of service. It opens our imagination to the possibilities that come with a life that serves ideals larger than us. This is why war can be a noble thing or why there is value in sacrifices made for others.

Suffering opens the door of the soul to reflection and inquiry. We must contemplate Christ’s death in the context of his life, his teachings on discipleship, his ministry of compassion, and his relationship with God. In this respect, we may look at our sufferings differently, asking the questions, “Is there some meaning that we can derive from our experience that might contribute to our spiritual growth or create a deeper sense of commitment?”6 “Is there something in our suffering that might lead us to a closer walk with God?”7 “Can such serious reflection on suffering, particular Christ’s suffering, connect us to him more intimately, resulting in a deepening of our relationship with him and leading us in our own suffering to renewal and healing?”8

Indeed, all suffering should teach us how to live and make us better people. It should facilitate the development of the soul, enrich our being, and make us whole persons. Is this not what Peter is saying? “But rejoice [in your sufferings] insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13). Could it be there is great benefit in sharing in Christ’s sufferings? Peter seems to think so. This is apparently how God wants us to view suffering. He wants us to understand that we are connected by our sufferings with Christ’s sufferings. Moreover, we should aspire to share in his sufferings as something that deepens our commitment to Christ (Phil. 3:10).

Ways to Explore Suffering with Those Who Suffer

How pastoral caregivers explore this subject with the sufferer is important to the healing process. While God may use trauma for many reasons, some known and others unknown, the caregiver should be cautious about identifying the reasons for the sufferer. We understand from Scripture that sometimes suffering is a consequence of sin (2 Sam. 12). Often it is used to test our faith (Job; James 1:2–4; Rom. 5:3–4; 1 Pet. 1:6–9) or provide some spiritual lesson on suffering (John 9:2–3; 1 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 12:3–11). But many times none of these reasons apply. For example, in Job’s case, none of the explanations he received from his counselors accounted for his suffering. It is best to guide the sufferer through the array of possible reasons for trauma.

These excerpts pulled from Beyond Trauma by Dean Bonura.

6. Liza Rankow, “The Transformation of Suffering,” Pastoral Psychology 55, no. 1 (2006): 95.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.

110523-F-DT527-223 by the U.S. Air Force. Licensed under U.S. Govt. Work.
100625-F-OC707-016 by the U.S. Air Force. Licensed under U.S. Govt. Work.

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