Does the church need a doctrine of suffering?
The Pneuma Review had an opportunity to speak with Ajith Fernando, the national director of Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka, about his recent book The Call to Joy and Pain. This book has received the 2008 Book Award from Christianity Today in the church and pastoral leadership category. We believe that you will likewise recognize the biblically-centered wisdom of Brother Fernando as he talks with us about the paradox of God’s provision and the call to endure hardship for the sake of Jesus and his story.
Pneuma Review: Please tell us a little about yourself and why you wrote The Call to Joy and Pain.
Ajith Fernando: I live in a country that has faced great tragedy for the past 25 years or so. We have an ongoing war that has claimed at least 70,000 lives, a revolution that claimed thousands more young people, and then the tsunami which took about 40,000 lives. Many, many people have left Sri Lanka, especially because of the welfare of their children. But my wife and I have been convinced that we are called to live and die here. We had to develop reasons for why we are staying on, especially reasons that made it good for our children to stay. This made me think a lot about how Christians respond to suffering.
But even more significantly, I came to the conclusion some years ago that joy is one of the most important features of Christianity. Coming as the second fruit of the Spirit it meant that the Bible teaches that holy people are happy people. My wife and I were convinced that, amidst all the suffering in Sri Lanka, the most valuable heritage we can give our two children was a home filled with the joy of the Lord to which they can come after facing the rigors of life in a hostile world.
Yet I know so many unhappy Christians. These are good people who have sought to obey God while others compromised and disobeyed. But they seem to suffer from a deep disappointment with the way life has treated them. I have grappled with this a lot and still grapple with it—pleading with God to help me to introduce these people to the joy of the Lord which is our strength amidst suffering.
These experiences and struggles convinced me that I must write this book. Because the truths in the Bible do not apply only to countries like Sri Lanka but all over the world, even in relatively peaceful and affluent countries. Yet soon in my study, I made the amazing discovery that the Bible almost never talks about suffering without talking about the rewards of it. And I also found that often the reward the Bible speaks of is joy. Therefore I decided I will not write on suffering without also writing about the joy which accompanies it and makes it bearable.