John S. Feinberg is the author of When There Are No Easy Answers and a seminary professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is married to Pat, who has Huntington’s Disease. When I read his opening pages explaining their struggles over Pat’s diagnosis, I knew he would have encouraging words for me and my husband in my chronic illness, and he did.
But this book is also a voice for anyone who is suffering.
This book informs the body of Christ how to provide supportive care, comfort, and encouragement to those who are hurting. In other words, this is a job for the church. When There Are No Easy Answers tells us how to do it, showing us clearly how to relate to people who are suffering.
This author understands, because he is living this alongside his wife. Not only did I learn how to serve others betters by reading his book, but I discovered what I now need for spiritual comfort in my own situation. I hadn’t recognized some of my own needs yet, for I’ve only been sick for three years. His wife has suffered for decades.
Seeking and comprehending the Biblical answers to the problem of pain and evil in the world is an undergirding that is essential to every Christian, for we all will suffer. We should know what God says about this frontwards and backwards, and this book briefly reviews these truths. As a professor of Systematic Theology, Dr. Feinberg assumed he had all the tools he needed for dealing with trial. Then catastrophe struck, and he discovered that we don’t really know suffering until we, too, have suffered.
He learned that in the moment of crisis and in the day-to-day for the long haul, sometimes the suffering don’t need the Biblical answers repeated to them. That time will come. But perhaps, what they need in that moment is for someone to sit quietly beside them, for their friends not to forget them, and for someone to come clean their bathroom.
Most of our offers of help aren’t helpful. He details these and why. For instance, and this is merely one of his many examples, he points out that when someone says, “If you need anything, please let me know,” the one who offered has in effect given difficult homework to the one suffering.
Until I read this section in Dr. Feinberg’s book, I hadn’t recognized that. This type of offer is always difficult for me. I seldom have the energy to come up with an idea, while simultaneously having the certainty that what I need won’t be too difficult or repugnant for the offerer to attempt. As a result, I typically never ask for help.
He writes that it is better for others to listen, to notice what needs to be done, and then to simply show up to help. In his example, a group organized to paint part of their home. When people came to visit they had noticed it needed done, so they did it. Not only did it help immensely, but the suffering ones felt seen, understood, and cherished. Something they could tangibly see every day had been done as an act of love.
We don’t do this well in our churches. I know I did it clumsily in my pre-illness days. I wish I’d seen clearly enough to simply show up to do what those hurting couldn’t ask for. I wish I’d had the sensitivity and imagination to recognize the need, even though I hadn’t yet experienced what it’s like to be debilitated. I also wish I hadn’t allowed the harried pace of my life to crowd out acts of service. Before I became sick, I didn’t realize that this was the higher and better choice I should have made.
Most of us are the same. That makes this book a must-read.
We don’t see much suffering in America, so we don’t know what to do. We lack practical compassion – I know I did, and we usually withdraw from suffering as a result, rather than wading in and trusting God to show us what to do.
I’m exceedingly grateful for my friends who truly see me, who come simply to talk, who sit in the ashes with me to mourn, who bring food, and who make me rest while they complete a practical task for me. They are the hands and feet of Jesus to me.
You can find this book HERE on Amazon and on Christianbook.com. I have provided an honest review in exchange for a free copy from Kregel, and I am now thrilled to have this excellent reference book in my library.
See comments below for my friend’s suggestion for sufferers when the “If you need anything, please let me know” situation arises. A great idea!