Does talking about one's pain and suffering give power to the adverse condition or demonstrate a lack of faith in a believer? Is doing so unchristlike?
Those are a couple of the questions addressed in pastor and theologian Jeremiah Johnston's recent book Unanswered, a volume intended to shed light on topics that have largely gone unaddressed within today's Church.
Some believers might feel that expressions of fear or concern about an infirmity or condition somehow surrender their power against it, while others believe that denying those feelings of vulnerability is a sign of faith.
Johnston told The Christian Post that both schools of thought are simply unbiblical, asserting that plenty of annointed leaders in the Bible were willing to be vunerable when it came to sharing about their suffering.
Pastor Johnston, an Oxford-educated Bible scholar, used Apostle Paul and his letters to the Corinthian Church to illustrate this point. "Paul is unafraid to share his affliction," Johnston told CP, quoting 2 Corinthians 1:8: 'For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia that we were burdened by excessively beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life (NASB).'"
The pastor continued in Unanswered, " … Christians should never be afraid to be transparent about the reality of their suffering and pain. Where did we get this notion that sharing honestly about our pain and suffering is somehow un-Christian?" The theologian put it simply. "You do not lack faith if you share your pain."
Johnston was careful to note, however, that while Apostle Paul didn't mind sharing the reality of his pain and suffering, he didn't constantly dwell on that pain.
"Though Paul is eager and transparent in recalling his suffering, he does not live there," Johnston wrote, noting that as Paul began his letter in 2 Corinthians 1, his focus is on God, not his challenges.
"Paul had learned the lesson that every overcomer eventually understands: learn from the past but don't live there. Paul had his share of troubles and significant challenges, but he had been comforted by God, and as a result, he was able to comfort the troubled Corinthian church family," he said. Apostle Paul drew his strength from The Almighty and used it to encourage others.
Johnston further emphasized that when people experience suffering they should keep their eyes on Christ.
"Our focus must remain on God when we struggle, suffer, and exprience pain," he wrote. "For Paul and his companions, their trials taught them to 'not to trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead,' (2 Corinthians 1:9 NASB)."
Focusing on God through trials is a foundational message that's echoed throughout the Christian community. Texas-based Lakewood Church Senior Pastor Joel Osteen imparted this lesson in a 2013 sermon titled "Focus on the Promise, Not the Problem," encouraging believers to keep their eyes focused on God and the assurity of His promises regardless of their current ordeals.
Osteen said, "What we focus on we magnify. We're not changing its actual size, we're simply making it bigger in our own minds."
The Lakewood megachurch pastor said that harping on negative news and bad circumstances only makes the issues bigger than they really are.
"It's changing your perception of it," Osteen said. "You can take a small coin. If you hold it up close enough to your eye, eventually it will block the sun. That coin — even though it's billions and trillions of times smaller [than the sun] — because you've got it so close, it's distorting your perspective. ... Quit magnifying what's wrong."
The pastor went on to use the example of a negative medical report, saying that believers could spend time dwelling on it and adding to their worries. "All that time, it's becoming bigger and bigger in your mind."
Sharing feelings about infirmities and personal suffering might not increase or decrease the power of those negative events, but dwelling on them can certainly increase their influence over the mind of the believer.