It is counter-productive for disciples of Jesus to buy into our society’s capacity to alleviate physical or psychological suffering to the extent that we also accept its preoccupation with the concept that all suffering is meaningless and can be avoided by careful management.
To buy into that belief is to move from a gospel of redemption to one focused on therapeutic outcomes.
From Will Willimon:
There is a prejudice abroad that all suffering is without meaning and that the prospect of death is inherently bleak and unimaginable.
Christians therefore must find a way to live well without denying suffering and death as aspects of life. Only God is eternal. At every stage of life we are dependent, not on our efforts but on the grace of God. The suffering of Jesus helps to redeem our suffering by knowing “Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NRSV). Jesus has not only been through suffering and anguish worse that ours, he is known by his active compassion for sufferers. Where there is suffering, there is Christ.
One caveat: while a theology of redemptive suffering may help with our own anguish, aches, and pains, we should be loath to apply it to the suffering of others. It’s not for me (even if Paul did it) to tell some sufferer, “Rejoice, your suffering is a gift from God to draw you closer to God.” Still, one can humbly offer a suffering friend the hopeful assurance that, even in suffering, God is there.
William H Willimon, Aging – Growing Old In Church, Baker Academic, 2020, pgs 90-91.