Suffering Prayers

Posted: July 7, 2012 by J in Discipleship, Theology

How would the sufferer pray differently depending on which view they took, the Hart view or the Calvinist?

Prayer for the person with a Calvinist view of suffering might take this form:

‘Father, I am hurting so badly that it’s hard to pray. I can’t understand the meaning of any of these things I’m suffering. They just seem all wrong. But I believe that through you they are right. I know you have a plan in all this for my good. Help me to trust in your wisdom and not get angry or bitter.’

It’s simple. It’s about trusting God. An interesting thing about this prayer is, it’s pretty inward-focussed.  The goal is for you to change, and to come to a place of acceptance. In terms of its stance towards the world, it’s fairly passive. That’s because the problem is not the suffering, the problem is with your heart. The prayer moves in the direction of minimising negative emotions.

Any activeness in prayer is going to be for the spiritual athletes who manage to thank God for the ‘gift’. They want to respond, because God has done something good. Nothing needs to change inside or out for the one who can give thanks for cancer. All is well.


The person with a more ‘Hartian’ view of suffering is likely to pray a different sort of prayer:

‘Lord, this terrible thing has happened, and – where are you? It’s unbearable, and only you can save me from this. Aren’t you going to act? I know you’ve won the victory over evil, and you’re restoring all things – but I can’t see any signs of that victory around here. When are you going to come and turn things around? It’s so hard to wait.

‘I remember now that you’ve called me to share with Jesus in his sufferings, for a time. You did warn me! If I have to suffer this for a while, please make me patient until you fix things. Because Lord, it’s bad down here. It’s really bad! Come quickly!’

By comparison this prayer is more complicated, there’s more to pray. There’s less simple clarity, and more confusion. It’s also much more active and outward turned. It’s a prayer for change: change in the outward situation. It’s active in calling on God to do something. It’s got a complaining note to it. There’s not so much sense here that these evil events will add up to something good – the main game is deliverance. The prayer is a vehicle for expressing strong negative emotion: deep hurt and powerful longings.

There is an inward dimension to the prayer, but this too is different from the Calvinist prayer above. There’s no prayer for resignation, but only for patience. This suffering is evil, but for some reason it must be born for a time as part of belonging to Jesus. Then it will be swept away in resurrection and God’s justice. The prayer is, help me to wait, to keep trusting your future, to hold on until you fix things.


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