Ministry opportunities have carried me from tragic circumstances to tragedy. I’ve walked alongside desperate parents and grieving hearts. I’ve watched the healthy fall ill and I’ve seen the worst of humanity and the horror of accidents. I’ve returned to my family to battle confusing feelings of guilt and shame. Some call it survivor’s guilt. It’s when a person feels guilty for surviving a tragic event. I believe it is present in the less recognized setting of ministry.
Thankfulness and guilt collide
Survivors have questions: Why has the Lord blessed/protected/healed them but not others? The survivor knows they are no better than the sufferer. Why did God, in His wisdom, decide for today that the survivor’s health would be intact or their family would be whole? Survivors are not afflicted in the same way or to the same capacity as the sufferer, but they nonetheless stagger under the weight of their questions.
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Punished or Rewarded?
God is not punishing sufferers and rewarding survivors because Christ was punished completely for all who believe in His name and the reward of eternal life is available to all who believe in Jesus. God is conforming survivors and sufferers into the image of His Son through circumstances that are vastly different (Romans 8:28-29). God is not obligated to explain His reasoning regarding the path He has chosen for us. That may cause some sufferers to struggle against bitterness and some survivors to struggle with guilt (Romans 9:20). Both require a humility that is found as eyes fix on eternity and hope is placed in Christ. Both individuals desperately need Jesus.
When the survivor and the sufferer view the circumstances God has ordained in their life in light of the gospel, it changes the heart. No one deserves good from God because no one does good (Romans 3:10-12).
Replace the lie with truth.
Survivors are just as needy, prone to wander, and in need of God’s continual presence as sufferers. Sufferers have a unique opportunity to learn something new about the character, promises, and commands of God. The lies that shames survivors for surviving or labels all suffering as God’s judgement must be replaced with the truth. Survivors and sufferers are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that they should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
God has a purpose
Survivors and sufferers cannot depend on their limited and sinful understanding of circumstances to discern God’s purposes because God’s ways are beyond measure (Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 147:5). God loves the sufferer just as much as He loves the survivor and both have the opportunity to bring glory and honor to Him. As the survivor humbly seeks to serve those in need, God is glorified. As the sufferer seeks the Lord in their seemingly impossible circumstances they find a powerful platform to declare the goodness of God in plenty and need. In their unique circumstances—which God prepared beforehand—they each bring glory to God.