We wanted to continue our journey of walking the road of suffering with God by talking to one of our staff who's helped a lot of people on that journey—CRM's Staff Development and Care Team leader, Alex Galloway. In this interview, Alex speaks to why it's so crucial for believers to examine their beliefs about suffering and develop a biblical perspective. He's also shared a Bible study on suffering with us, which we've made available to you here.
Watch the video.
Read through the interview.
Q. Suffering isn’t an easy topic to talk about and it’s pretty heavy. Why do you believe it’s important to talk about it?
A. The topic is so important. As a psychologist, I work with people who are suffering quite a bit, and one of the themes I see is this surprise at suffering. I think that sets us up for trouble. When suffering does occur we’re really not prepared for it.
Q. What are some of the foundations to a biblical view of suffering?
A. I think it’s first of all being aware that suffering is a part of our lives. If we are followers of Jesus we will suffer just as Jesus did, just as his disciples did, just as the Apostles did. They experienced suffering. And that should be a part of our understanding of why we’re here and what it’s all about.
And the way in which we suffer should be qualitatively different from the world, particularly from a world that’s full of fear and terrorism—everything you read on the news. We should be interacting with that in a different way because we don’t suffer without a context. We suffer with an understanding of hope, with understanding that there’s far more to this life than the current suffering we may be experiencing or that we see others experiencing. Then the Bible begins to come alive in different ways for us. It becomes our bedrock that holds us together. I think that’s one of the ways that we get off track in our theology of suffering. That there even needs to be a theology of suffering is sort of an indication that we may be missing the boat.
Q. Are there one or two scriptures that you’ve found helpful for grounding us in a biblical view on suffering?
A. The Bible is full of verses that talk about suffering. The more I’ve been grappling with this topic and reading scripture, the more I’m thinking, “How is it that we miss this?” Looking in a concordance or doing a Google search on suffering will bring up certain passages, but there are other key concepts that people miss.
One of those is Galatians 2:20—that we have been crucified with Christ, and that we are no longer our own. That is the starting point as Christians, and this should change our perspective on suffering. First, I’ve been crucified with Christ is a profound statement: that sharing in his sufferings is what I’m called to do, that my life is no longer my own, that I can trust my life to be spent in a way that will ultimately be for my good and for the glory of God, and that I participate in some grand purpose that goes far beyond what I can imagine. I don’t need to work overtime protecting myself out of fear because my life is not my own. It’s given over to a loving Father who I’ve entrusted it to. I think that’s really helpful.
Another passage is consider it all joy when you encounter various sufferings (James 1:2). This passage goes against everything we believe, right? When is it that we really enjoy suffering? That just doesn’t compute today, in our sort of bubble-wrapped society where we’re always trying to take pain pills and relieve ourselves of any pain or discomfort. That passage rattles us a little bit and forces us to say, “Lord, how is it that I can consider this a joy?” And the benefit that I’ve had of working with people who’ve encountered unbelievable suffering in their life is to say, “Yeah, it was a horrible experience. I was raped, or saw my husband murdered, whatever it might be”. And at the end of it, “I’m grateful. Not that the event happened, but for the work God did in me and is doing through me in full view of the misery that I experienced or went through.” They would say they experience joy, which is just mind-blowing.
That was what I was talking about earlier in terms of suffering differently—that there should be something qualitatively different about the way we go through hard times in this life. And the scriptures give us a road map for how to do that. We have our Lord and Savior who walked it out for us as an enfleshed example of how to do that.
Q. You mentioned joy as an unexplainable fruit in the midst of suffering for those who have a biblical view and are connected with Jesus during suffering. Are there other fruits that come from people who have that biblical perspective?
A. I think people will often recognize this, whether they’re Christians or not—that when someone dies or something happens to someone you know, there’s a sense of holiness, an awe. You want to be really careful around them. You want to honor them in some way. There’s a somber nature about it. I think that’s because there is something powerful about people who are in the midst of the trials and the suffering. It is sacred in some way.
We know people who have weathered those storms well. The Bible talks about perseverance, endurance, and character-forming things. But it also affects our spiritual authority. There’s something about people who have gone through hell and back that we look up to. They have tapped into something more than what this world offers us. We look to them, because they have not just survived, but they have overcome. They weren’t destroyed by suffering. Instead they were made stronger, and, I believe, were given more spiritual authority as a result.
And that’s the offer all of us have when we’re faced with suffering in our lives.
Alex Galloway and his wife Amy have been with CRM since 2003. They live in Malaga, Spain, where they run a hub for missionaries that provides counseling, training, leadership and transition coaching, and spiritual direction. Alex serves as the the director of CRM's Staff Care and Development team.