DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Theology of Suffering through a Global Pandemic

Written by: on March 12, 2020

“Perhaps the key to facing suffering is not detachment and removal, but meaning and love. Nonattachment may shield us from suffering. To love is to be vulnerable. To desire and strive is to risk disappointment. But has Haidt notes, non-attachment also deprives us of our greatest joys. Striving, desire, and deep attachment can lead us to the precipice. But they can also bring us to treasures nonattachment cannot find.”[1]

 

I’m not even sure where to begin this week. Writing and reading and studying feels insignificant and insufficient in light of what’s happening on a global scale. People around the world are suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level. We see this suffering everywhere we look: no toilet paper on shelves, heated facebook posts on both sides of the isle of intensity, things being canceled and closed, and more. Even for myself, I am left wondering where to find God in the wee hours of the morning as I write yet another email canceling yet another event. Today, our University turned all classes online effective next week and cancelled everything. While we’re still open for business, I anticipate it will feel like a ghost-town today. It’s pretty safe to say within the last 72 hours, humanity has hit information overload.

 

As Christian leaders, I believe we need a strong theology of suffering. As this pandemic clearly points out, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before and our world is increasingly more connected. We have connections all over the globe. Even just in this program, we are in at least 4 different countries, and find ourselves in relationship with people we had no idea existed even just two and a half years ago. So how are we, as global Christian citizens, called to respond to the overwhelming information and fear we see before us? With a strong theology of suffering.

 

In her book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, Rebecca McLaughlin confronts suffering, along with many other difficult questions head on. She has an entire chapter dedicated a theology of suffering where she poignantly and lovingly demonstrates the suffering Jesus through the story of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, Lazarus.[2] She claims that suffering is not just the result of sin, nor is it the result of a God who is absent of love.[3] Instead, she points to the fact that we are all in the middle of a story, and if we are in the midst of suffering at the present moment, it’s very challenging to know that any ending will be a happy one.[4]

 

The truth is, we’re in the middle of this pandemic, and we cannot see the end of it. It is hard for us to feel confident in a happy finish to the COVID-19 crisis in a world that is shutting down by the minute. So in what can we trust? We can trust that the God who surpasses all understanding is present in the midst of this suffering. We can trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and is continually working to restore all things. We pray that restoration and resurrection comes quickly.

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[1] Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2019), Loc. 4049.

[2] Ibid., 4155.

[3] Ibid., 4755.

[4] Ibid., 4189.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

12 responses to “A Theology of Suffering through a Global Pandemic”

  1. Hi Karen. I was thinking the exact same thing as I was preparing to write my blog for this week. The question that kept cropping up was “how do I make meaning out of what I’m doing when it seems so insignificant against the backdrop of what I’m observing as apocalyptic fear and panic?” I was extra sensitive to my staff this week, allowing space and time to talk about these things in a calm and respectful manner.

    During these times I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis when he wrote in the chapter titled “Learning in War Time” in Weight of Glory. He said:

    “If you attempted to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, either in the Church or in the line: if you don’t read good books, you will read bad ones. If you don’t go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fail into sensual satisfactions.”

    Biola is not far behind you guys at APU. It looks like they’ll be cancelling classes and all kinds of meetings and events.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks for sharing, Harry! I really appreciate the wisdom that connects us to others in these times. Especially because it helps locate us in history, knowing that we aren’t the only ones who have ever experienced anything like this.

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    The knowledge that God is present with us in our suffering is such a balm. Great post Karen . . . and my prayers are with you and all educational leaders as you move into this uncertain future.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Karen! Crazy times for sure and leaning into a biblical understanding of suffering would be great for us in this hour.

  4. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Praying for you, my friend. Your care for students and staff during this time really matters. We are all doing our best to serve our student populations as best we can, engaging in ways we had not thought of even weeks prior. Thank you for your thoughtful care of those around you. I am grateful for the presence of Jesus in the midst of the unknown!

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks Rhonda! We’re all in this together – literally. It’s nice that all of us are doing this together and it reminds us that we each have a part to play in this grand scheme!

  5. Karen, I like that our cohort allows us to learn from the diversity from across the globe. This apocalyptic fear and confusion of Corona virus indeed reminds us of the fact that we’re living in a global “village” and what affects China should be of concern to me because it’ll eventually affect me, no one is too far. It is interesting that the decision taken by the US government was almost instantaneously replicated by other countries, almost like a “copy and paste” approach. As you’ve pointed out, it fills like the world is shutting down and we don’t know what next but we can trust the God who understands all things and is the ever present help!

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Good point, Wallace. Why do you think the other countries just follow what we’ve chosen to do in the US like a “copy and paste” approach, as you mentioned?

  6. mm Sean Dean says:

    Karen these are great thoughts. I really appreciate how you managed to find a way in to this week’s book with the world the way it is right now.

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