When Christians Gaslight Suffering

When Christians Gaslight Suffering April 28, 2022

We’ve just come out of the Easter season, which is always a mix of celebration, reflection, sombreness, gratitude, and victorious worship, as we travel from celebratory Palm Sunday, to heart-rending Good Friday, to triumphant Easter morning!

Senior, Headache, Rain, Window, Old, Suffering

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Christianity is a religion steeped in victory (1Co 15.57).

God is good, and God has won, and God will always win, and God is on our side, and so we believe that we will win in Him (Rom 8.31-39).

So this victory becomes a major theme of our theology, of our convictions, of our preaching, of our singing.

Christians win because Jesus has won!

This is truth.

However –

What then of loss and suffering?

What about when the prayers aren’t answered?

What about when the trial is overwhelming?

What about when the tears are falling?

What about when we just don’t feel victorious?

Sometimes (often?) we respond to these tough times with more faith, more worship, more victory-talk.

“This isn’t a set-back, it’s a set-up!”

“This is just the wilderness before the breakthrough!”


Sometimes, a good helping of shame gets thrown into the mix.

“You just need more faith, or you wouldn’t feel so low!”

“You just need to count your blessings, then you’ll feel better!”

“If you were really living a victorious life, you wouldn’t worry about all this heavy stuff!”

Such sentiments may be well-intentioned, out of a sincere desire to lift spirits and point people to Jesus.

That of course is not a bad thing, and in our low moments, it is certainly good to try and lift spirits and good to focus on Jesus.

But when we do this in the wrong way, we are in danger of “gaslighting” our suffering – trying to talk ourselves out of it, pretending like it’s not real, putting on fake smiles and really, when you get down to it, denying what is real, like it or not.

This has the danger of creating false expectations of what the Christian life is supposed to be.

It also invalidates real emotions that people are feeling in their struggle.

It also offers very little comfort to the truly afflicted.

And – it is also is not the way of Jesus.

(And the way of Jesus should be important to those of us who say we follow Jesus! – 1John 2.6).

The thing is, we don’t need to deny or deflect suffering in order to fully celebrate the victory of Christ and how that victory is at work in our lives.

It’s not one or the other. It is both/and.

It is not a contradiction at all to both believe in a victorious life in Jesus while simultaneously experiencing suffering as well.

We can say this with confidence, because Jesus Himself fully walked in both.

It’s easy to emphasize the glory and triumph of Easter Sunday and quickly forget that the road to victory passed through Good Friday, and included Gethsemane, betrayal, abandonment, being lied about and slandered, the physical agony of the Cross, and that oh-so-human feeling of God seeming far away (see Mark chapter 15).

Lest we forget, Jesus also told us that to truly follow Him would require us embracing our own personal Good Friday experiences in this life (Mt 16.24-25).

So we don’t need to deny suffering.

We also don’t need to pretend like our suffering isn’t hard “because God is with us.”

He is. But again, see: Jesus, Cross.

That was suffering, and it was hard!

Christ struggled intently under the weight of His suffering (Mk 14.34; Lk 22.39-44).

As Christians, we can be honest and authentic about our trials, and we can embrace tears, lament, frustration, fear, doubt, anxiety, pain, and heartache.

We are actually very much like Christ when we encounter these things, Christ who was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isa 53.3).

Our ultimate hope is not a suffering-free life here on earth.

It is in a God who suffered for us and who also suffers with us, who gifts us with His grace and His presence in the middle of our pain and struggle.

It is in a supernatural peace that we can find, which doesn’t eliminate our suffering, but preserves us through our suffering (Phil 4.6-7).

And it is in a God who will ultimately swallow up all suffering in resurrection power, wiping away every tear from our eyes, and restoring and redeeming us completely (Rev 7.15-17).

So may we be honest about our struggles, and authentic about our suffering.

And may we find God’s grace in the midst of it, trusting the Good Shepherd to lead us through the dark valley with Him at our side (Ps 23).


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