When Isaiah looked forward to the coming of the Messiah he penned what appears to be a strange description of God’s chosen Servant. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa 53:3). How could the Messiah be despised and rejected? How could he know sorrow and grief? The answers are given in the Gospels which portray Jesus in just these terms and where the Lord himself tells his disciples that they too must become people of sorrow as they give up the world, take up their cross, and follow him (Matt 16:24–25).
Sorrow and grief are profoundly central to the Christian gospel. Indeed, the gospel is meaningless without a suffering Christ who comes for a suffering people. This reality, as C. S. Lewis rightly points out, “creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.” How do we make sense of a world where some deny the existence of ultimate good and others insist that pain is an illusion? While the articles in this issue do not attempt to solve the philosophical problems behind pain and suffering, they offer missiological reflections on ministry to the suffering and historical examples of ministry resulting in personal tragedy and pain.
Cover picture: “Carry the Cross” by Ni Ketut Ayu Sri Wardani © 2003. All rights reserved. An artist in Bali, Ni Ketut Ayu Sri Wardani studied Fine Arts in Bandung Institute of Technology. Inspiration for the painting: “Staggering, falling, rising, and falling again. Jesus’ blood marking his trail to Golgotha. No suffering is comparable to his extreme suffering. His steadfast obedience stirs me to follow, keeping my eyes focused on him (Luke 9:23). For He leads us on in faith and to perfection.”