More from Dr. Andrew Purves, The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry. In his chapter, A Theology of Compassionate Suffering, he writes:
“Jesus alone is the compassionate person, the one in whom compassion is an actuality. This means that compassionate ministry is possible for us only if we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through our relationship with him we participate in his compassion. We recognize that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Suffering can cripple us. No matter how sound our theology is, or how intense we make our piety, or how firm our faith remains in spite of real difficulties, suffering can squeeze us dry. Suffering can destroy us as lively human beings.
Compassion involves suffering. There is no way around the blunt fact that compassion will increase our experience of suffering. To suffer with another is still to suffer. What is to prevent us from being squeezed dry? Left to itself, suffering, even in the most noble of causes, can cripple us as we buckle under the weight of accumulated pain.
Our natural response to suffering in others and in ourselves is to turn away from it in some way. Our instinct is to avoid suffering if at all possible. We avoid suffering because the suffering of others is painful to us. Apathy is a form of the inability to suffer. In the officially optimistic society suffering is denied and repressed.
Compassionate ministry has the responsibility of entering into the loneliness and loneness of those who suffer. The Bible gives voice to suffering in the form of the lament psalms.
Alternative models of the Christian life and ministry can be derived from the parable of the Good Samaritan. According to the first interpretation of the parable, God charges a person to be compassionate and to go and pick up wounded people. The person then moves in obedience into a ministry of tending to wounded people. This understanding of ministry tends to set up a Ping-Pong match in which the minister bounces back and forth between two extremes. If he or she picks up every wounded traveler, exhaustion will soon set in, to be accompanied inevitably by anger, disillusionment, and despair. In other words, the minister will experience what we now call burnout. If, on the other hand, he or she does not pick up every wounded traveler, guilt will cripple his or her ministry every bit as quickly as exhaustion. This model of ministry leads, then, to a two-step dance as one beats a rhythm between burnout and guilt.
There is another way to understand ministry in the light of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here we see God is the minister. Only God in Christ can take on the suffering of the world in compassion and not be destroyed by it. Only God can heal the world’s brokenness. All ministry is God’s ministry, or, more accurately, God’s ministry in Jesus Christ, so the glory of the Father, in the power of the Spirit, for the sake of the world. Ministry is not a pragmatic attending to human need whenever that arises for us. Rather, ministry is first of all God’s work of healing and saving in Jesus Christ, and our ministry finds its identity, goal, and possibility entirely from that actual prior ministry.
As we look at this second model, it is important to understand that we are, first of all, the persons lying in the ditch and in need of divine help. God in Christ ministers in compassion to us, taking the first step. Outside of our life in Christ, ministry really becomes impossible for us, for it becomes our ministry and not God’s ministry in which we by grace participate. Spirituality and ministry always belong together. To attempt to relate to others outside of our being in Christ would be to claim false autonomy for ourselves.
Jesus is the sufferer. His suffering defines our suffering. And his suffering allows us to be secure in the knowledge that God is a God who suffers
In 2 Corinthians 4:7-14 we are presented with the image of our life as a jar of clay that is filled with the treasure of Christ. The power belongs to God not to us. The life of Jesus is ministered in and through my body. It may be death in me, but life to others. God brings new life from death for the believer. We participate in the suffering of Christ. “