When we meet someone who is suffering, whether physically or emotionally, we naturally want to be of service to them. Sometimes our fears overcome us, and we avoid opportunities we’re presented with to “bear one another’s burdens” or “mourn with those who mourn” (Mosiah 18:8–9). Other times we step in but viscerally feel our inadequacies. Sometimes we realize our good intentions have gone wrong, and we have said something or done something that has caused even greater pain. Sometimes this happens without our even realizing it. Even with its many challenges, we are all called to learn compassion, to be with each other even in extremity. How can we do this better?
In this episode, we talk about all of these things and much more with three persons who are extremely experienced with providing care for those (and the families and friends of those) in great pain, mental or physical duress, as well as those dying: LDS military or hospice chaplains Phil McLemore, Nathan Kline, and Jason Unsworth.
Part 1 (Episode 174) focuses primarily upon the “meaning” of suffering, examining a dozen or more views from religions west and east, Mormonism, and secular framings in psychology and psychotherapies. The panelists wrestle with theodicy (well-intentioned attempts to explain why God would allow the world to be the way it is, including all its pain) and its general inadequacies—especially in pastoral situations. The discussion also examines the role of lamentation and protest as paths toward possible healing, as well as emphasizing the key importance of what theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls “communities of care.”
Part 2 (Episode 175) moves to best pastoral practices, the role of empathy and compassion, and how we might learn to “be with” a sufferer in the most supportive of ways without the expectation that we can heal them and take their pain way. Through stories and reflections on scripture, and drawing from their broad training, the chaplains offer a variety of approaches that experience has shown them to be the most satisfying even if situations remain tragic. The discussion also suggests directions listeners might look should they want to learn to read or think more deeply about pastoral care (whether as bishop or some other church calling, or as family and friends) for those in dire stress.
With this episode, we also officially announce our intention to make “The Chaplains
on . . . ” a regular series in which every few months this panel takes on a new topic. Ideally the shows will focus on themes of your choosing. Please suggest ideas for future topics! Feel free to make your suggestions below, or if you’d like, please write to Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon at email@example.com.
Mormon Matters Episode on The Problem of Evil and Suffering (More philosophical than this episode but also a much deeper dive into specific LDS scriptures and views.)
Loyd Ericson, “‘Which Thing I Had Never Supposed’: The Problem of Evil and the Problem of Man” (Sunstone, June 2010)
Jacob Baker, “Theologizing in the Presence of Burning Children: From Theodicy to Lament” (Sunstone, June 2012)
“If We Could See Inside Others’ Hearts” (Short video that is not at all subtle but still kind of neat. Focusing on empathy.)