How Do We Understand Suffering Through a Theology of the Cross?

—By Adam Welton

The theology of the cross

How do we understand suffering through a theology of the cross? There are two reason to use a question here. First, the question allows for an open dialogue with the subject allowing for a fuller exploration of the topic at hand. Second, in the question points to the answer. The question that most people are really asking is how to understand suffering. The answer to this question can only rightly be understood through a theology of the cross. 

Gerhard Forde said, “How can the cross be a theology? The cross is an event. Theology is reflection on and explanation of the event. Theology is about the event, is it not?”[1] All of Christian theology is about one single event: the cross. Without the cross at the center of all theology we simply get anthropology. Scripture gives the history of the plan of salvation from sin by God. There is motion in Scripture which leads us from the fall to the cross and then out from the cross to the church where the benefits of the cross are received. The center of the church is nothing other than the event of the cross. 

Before we tackle the hard question of suffering let us explore the theology of the cross. This term, while not found in the Bible, presents a basic hermeneutic. The way we understand Scripture will change the way we see our world. The lens Christians see the world through is Scripture, because it gives God's view of the world. Only in Scriptures do we find the true condition of the world. Knowing this, how we understand Scripture affects how we view the world and finally understand suffering. 

The terms “theology of the cross” and “theology of glory” both come from Dr. Martin Luther. Luther presented the Theses of the Heidelberg Disputation on 25 April 1518 at the Augustinian convent for public disputation.[2] John Staupitz invited Luther and Beier to acquaint the Augustianian order with Wittenberg's new theology.[3] Vicar Staupitz wanted Luther's new theology to be known and well received by these educated men. In writing for this purpose, Luther first introduced the language of the theology of the cross in his Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation. 

The Heidelberg Disputation opposes the theology of the cross to the theology of glory. These two theologies are set as diametrically opposed to each other. Their opposition becomes visible when the core components of each is mapped out:



God is visible

God is hidden



Acceptable to human reason

Offensive to human reason

God works in power

God works in weakness

Human will is free

Human will is enslaved to sin

Righteousness is achieved doing the works of the law

Righteousness is a gift through faith in Christ alone

Characterized by either despair or arrogance

Characterized by the humility of confidence in Christ 

The first item in the chart opposes a visible God to a hidden God. Theses 19 and 20 of the Heidelberg Disputation give an unclear understanding of this: “Thesis 19 That a person does not deserve to be called a theologian who claims to see into the invisible things of God by seeing through earthly things (events, works). Thesis 20 But [that person deserves to be called a theologian] who comprehends what is visible of God (visibilia et posteriora Dei) through suffering and the cross.”[5] The theologian of glory sees God in the events and works of the world. Many will look at sickness and suffering as God's wrath and punishment or at a person’s success as a mark of God's favor on the person. The theologian of the cross sees God only in the suffering of Christ on the cross.[6] This is a radically different way to see God. It means for the theologian of the cross the only place to know God is in Scripture. The only way to see God is not with our eyes but with our ears. 

The second point opposes “the eyes” to “faith,” or “the eyes” to “the ears.” The theologian of glory will not believe unless he has visible signs. For the theologian of the cross all faith comes from hearing. Steven Paulson states this quite well in his book Lutheran Theology: “What Luther discovered next was that faith is created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by words. God's own justice becomes passive because God wants to be justified in his words. … “That Thou mayest be justified in thy words” (Psalm 51:5 and Romans 3:4 translation altered).”[7] This faith, created by the word of God, allows us to see God. But what we see of God is only the homo factus est (God who has been made man): God taking on flesh and blood, and dying on the cross. Here in the lowliness, in the suffering, do we finally see God. 

The third point considers whether theology is acceptable or offensive to human reason. To be plausible to the wisdom of the world, theology must be reasonable. If what is said is not reasonable and is offensive to human reason, then it will be discarded. St. Paul points us to this in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Clearly when speaking of the cross the world sees it as foolishness. To have a savior who dies and does not lead men in victorious battle is foolishness to them. The theologian of glory accepts this way of thinking. He considers it and says that there must be something more. There has to be something behind the cross. The theologian of the cross sees the true wisdom and power in the cross, in the very event of Christ's death on the cross itself. While this does not make sense to human reason, the theologian of the cross simply takes God's word for it. 

The fourth point opposes a God who works in power to a God who works in weakness. This is the chief point. This one point changes expectations of God. A theologian of glory looks for God to show himself in power. He sees God coming to people not in their suffering but only in their success. Gene Veith writes about how the theology of glory appears in Christian bookstores: 

Today their shelves too are stocked with ways of using God for one's own health, happiness, and prosperity. . . . Their covers make vast and excited claims, as if by following certain steps family problems will disappear, our bodies will do what we want, our financial problems will evaporate, we will solve our nation's problems, grow the church, and live happily ever after.[8]

Veith notes how people create methods out of God's word in order to make better lives. These books do not give the promises found in Scripture but use God's word to create methods to reach perfection in this life. Follow these methods, as Veith observes, and one will “live happily ever after.” God will be present in power and success. Life will become a fairy tale ending.[9] 

The theologian of the cross knows that God reveals himself in weakness and helps mankind in the same weakness. Isaiah 53:2 says that there is no appearance of greatness in the one who comes to save the world. Isaiah describes not only how Christ had nothing which appeared to be great but also how he will be rejected and be acquainted not with power and might but with grief (Isa 53:3). Christ, who is true God, sets aside his power and might to become man in order to win salvation for man. Isaiah speaks of this savior: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:4–5). In the stripes of Christ we are healed. Here the chastisement of Christ brings us peace in times of suffering. Here the theologian of the cross has to see God, for here God made himself manifest to mankind in his son Jesus Christ. It was not in power, but in this lowliness described by Isaiah that Christ came. Man would not have chosen for God to work this way. However, God chose to work this way for man. 

The fifth point could have its own paper; we consider it only briefly here. The theologian of glory assumes man's will is free while the theologian of the cross knows man's will is enslaved to sin. St. Paul tells us we are in the condition of being enslaved to sin (Rom 7). The theologian of glory, holding that the will is free and one is able to keep the law of God, contradicts what St. Paul says. Free will leaves the question of why we need Christ open. If the will is free, if people can choose not to sin, no longer do we need Christ. It could be said that Christ only begins to forgive sins and then enables a person to grow as a Christian to the point of sinlessness. Why then would Christians still suffer? If sin is gone, because the will of man does the will of God, then the person should not be suffering. The reason for suffering then must be insufficient faith or morality.

The sixth point opposes righteousness achieved by doing the works of the law to righteousness as a gift through faith in Christ alone. In the end the theology of glory comes down to righteousness no longer being a free gift of Christ given to man, but a work of the law. This point lumps all theologies of glory together, irrespective of whether it be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Mormon theology. The theologian of glory is no different than the world. The theologian of the cross sees the only hope we have in righteousness which is given to man through faith by Christ. It is justification through faith by grace alone. Melanchthon summed this up in Augsburg Confession IV. This gift is given by the Holy Spirit through the gospel to create and sustain saving faith in the hearer. Luther says of justification: “For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”[10] 

Finally, the theology of glory is characterized by either despair or arrogance while the theology of the cross is characterized by the humility of confidence in Christ. Theologians of glory have abandoned hope in Christ for despair or arrogance in the self. The theology of glory finds only despair in suffering, for suffering brings the weakness and helplessness of man to the surface and strips away all illusions of power. Those who succumb to suffering must have had inadequate faith. God has abandoned them. God then ends up in one of two categories. God is either the creator of the world who does not break into time and space to help man,[11] or there is no God. The theologian of glory finally has nothing to offer the one suffering. 

The theologian of the cross sees God in weakness. St. Paul speaks comfort to all who are suffering in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. St. Paul speaks the comfort which can only come from seeing God in the weakness of the cross, from knowing that God has suffered that we may be restored. A theologian of the cross finds confidence in the cross of Christ. 

The world will never agree with the theologian of the cross who finds comfort in a man who has died on a cross. But those who are being saved by the cross finally find all of their comfort and confidence in the cross. It is here, in the theology of the cross, where the theologian has something to offer to those who are suffering. 

Understanding suffering 

“Dear friends, you know that it is customary in this season to preach on the Passion, so I have no doubt that you have heard many times what kind of passion and suffering it was. You have also heard why it was that God the Father ordained it, namely, that through it he wanted to help, not the person for Christ, for Christ had no need at all for this suffering; but we and the whole human race needed this suffering.”[12] Luther points to our need of Christ's suffering to relieve our suffering. This is the starting point for understanding suffering from the cross of Christ. 

We must be clear from the outset that “every Christian must be aware that suffering will not fail to come.”[13] This is the first point in which the theology of the cross differs from the theology of glory. The theology of glory seeks to avoid suffering. “Modern culture would tell us that pain and suffering are just a part of life, and that we need to do everything we can to avoid both.”[14] This idea seeps into the theology of many Christians. Richard C. Eyer writes: “If a person holds to a tragic view of life that pursues happiness now at any cost, a view that devalues the sufferings of this life, he will inevitably hold to a theology of glory, seeking to avoid suffering—perhaps even to the point of despair and self-destruction in suicide.”[15] Eyer observes the thinking of the secular world working its way into the church. 

A short survey of some of the largest churches in America confirms Eyer’s observation. Joel Osteen writes: “Living your best life now means being excited about the life God has given you. It means believing for more good things in the days ahead, while living in the moment and enjoying it to the hilt. … God's people should be the happiest people on earth. So happy, in fact, that other people notice. Why? Because we not only have a fabulous future, we can enjoy life today!”[16] For Osteen hope is not just in the future for the life to come but is right now. God wants people to have a great life and nothing can limit God from giving you that life except you: “God is limited only by our lack of faith.”[17] Osteen goes on to address a question which gets to the heart of suffering: “Yes, but Joel, it's been a rough year. I've gone through so many disappointments. I've lost a lot of good things.”[18] Osteen answers, “Maybe so, but have you considered this: If it were not for the goodness of God, you might have lost it all. Why not be grateful for what you have? Quit looking at what's wrong and start thanking God for what's right. Get up each day expecting God's favor.”[19] Joel Osteen sees suffering as the result of a lack of faith. In the midst of suffering we do not see a gracious God who cares for us but one who is angry and wrathful at insufficient faith.

The theology of glory deals with suffering by trying to dismiss it or thinking one’s way out of it. Thinking one’s way out of suffering is to glorify the self and seek help from the self and not from God. By turning in on oneself, one cannot possibly turn to God. The theology of glory also denies the fact that we cannot always do something about suffering. We cannot always relieve pain, hurt, loss, or physical problems. Directing a person to the power of positive thinking to resolve suffering does them an injustice and denies the truth of the situation. 

Here we finally see the difference between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the cross in suffering. “A theology [Forde points out that the Latin literally says “theologian” rather than “theology”] of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology [theologian] of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[20] The theologian of the cross just says suffering is suffering and there is not much we can do about it. Take the example of a man who is dying of cancer. The doctors have done everything they can do and there is nothing left to do. The theologian of glory smiles and tells the person and the family that things will be okay. The theologian of the cross says the man is dying. There is recognition the man is dying and we can do nothing. The theologian of the cross does not deny that God can and does work in miracles at times, but knows this is not the normal way God works. He does not look for a miracle where God has not promised one. When death is at hand the theologian of glory offers false hope in miracles while the theologian of the cross gives true hope in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the sake of Christ. 

Knowing suffering comes and there is nothing we can do to avoid it does not really help us to understand suffering. It does not help to answer the questions which come up when we suffer or our loved ones suffer. It does not answer the question of why some who are evil do not suffer while those who are good suffer. To address this question, we must first consider the cause of suffering.

Suffering was not part of the world created by God and declared by him to be good. Suffering came into the world at the same time as sin:

Through Adam and Eve, and through their sin, pain, suffering, and death were brought into God's good and perfect creation. When God created this world, including Adam and Eve, He did not create pain and suffering as part of His creation. Rather, the pain and suffering that is experienced in the world is a result of the sin that has been brought into the world.[21] 

Genesis 3 portrays suffering as a result of original sin. “[T]his inherited defect is guilt, which causes us all to stand in God's disfavor and to be ‘children of wrath by nature’ because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, as the Apostle testifies in Romans 5[:12].”[22] All people are affected by original sin and are under its punishment: “The punishment and penalty for original sin, which God laid upon Adam's children and upon original sin, is death, eternal damnation, and also ‘other corporal’ and spiritual, temporal, and eternal miseries, ‘the tyranny and domination of the devil.’”[23] The reformers knew with sin came not only eternal punishment but also temporal miseries. We confess this each Sunday: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”[24] We know that there is both temporal and eternal punishment, but we often do not think of these punishments as suffering. We connect punishment with imprisonment and other civic penalties. Pain and suffering are part of the punishment which comes for sin. We may wish that there were no pain in the world, but it is clear from the curse in Genesis 3:16–19 that pain is part of the punishment for sin. But does that mean all pain and suffering can be linked to a specific sin?

The answer to the question is yes and no. Some suffering can be linked to a specific sin. This is easiest to know when God tells us through a prophet. When the Israelites are taken into captivity by the Babylonians, God tells us through Isaiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah that this was the result of Israel's sin. Through Amos God lays out in great detail the sins the Northern Kingdom committed that led God to punish them. Linking suffering to a specific sin becomes harder and very dangerous when we do not have a direct word of God. It is safe to say that an alcoholic suffering from liver disease suffers because of sin. A link can be made between leading a promiscuous life style and contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Yet caution should be used in these cases. While it may be true in some cases, it is not necessarily true in all cases. To jump to this conclusion falsely can cause a great amount of pain and suffering. We do need to speak God's law, but this needs to be spoken carefully and in love for the person. The law already works on them in their suffering. We risk driving the person into complete despair if we continue to hit him with the law.[25] With that said, when sin and suffering go together we cannot deny it. In most cases, however, people suffer without a specific sin as the cause of their suffering. Suffering is just part of living in this fallen creation. 

Evil does cause suffering—but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don't seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil—perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil. Only false speaking lures us into doing that.[26]

We should not be drawn into the idea of a specific sin leading to specific suffering. While all suffering is caused by sin not all sin lead directly to suffering. 

How then is suffering dealt with? Is suffering something which is simply to be avoided? Or is suffering to be expected and dealt with when it comes? The first is the way of the world and the way of the theologian of glory. The second is the way of the theologian of the cross and of Scriptures. Suffering is part of this life and this world because of the fall into sin. 

Knowing suffering is in the world is only part of understanding suffering. The other part is seeing suffering in light of the cross. A theologian of the cross sees and knows suffering as part of the world and does not simply try to rid the person of suffering. What does the theologian of the cross do? “Pastoral care consists in helping suffering people learn to relate the cross to their suffering here and now as well as to their hope for hereafter.”[27] The theologian of the cross helps the person who is suffering interpret suffering by the light of the cross. 

In Scripture there are connections between suffering and sin, and forgiveness and healing. Jesus is always moving among the people and doing the work of restoring the fallen creation. This work is ultimately carried out in his death on the cross. Here God does the work of paying for sin and restoring creation to himself. This reveals that “the connection between sickness and the forgiveness of sins is the connection between our helplessness before God and the cross of Jesus on which Jesus became our help.”[28]

In the weakness of suffering we finally come to see our need for forgiveness. When faced with the loss of control in our life we come to understand that we are not able to take care of the problems in our life. We need help to deal with our sin and with our suffering. Here in suffering, in weakness God reveals himself. Through the suffering of Christ we finally understand God is the one who deals with our suffering. 

Under the cross we also know God has not left us alone in suffering. God forgives sins and cares for the body. At times God grants healing to those who are suffering. We do not know why some are granted healing and some are not. Truthfully, we should not try to answer this question. This is the hidden knowledge of God that has not been revealed to us. As theologians of the cross we do not try to search out this knowledge. We accept that this is the way of the Lord. We can know God does give healing and he ordinarily does it through regular means. 

Most of the time suffering is a response to pain.[29] While not all pain is accompanied by suffering, often pain and suffering go together. With this in mind we can consider how pain relief alleviates suffering. God accomplishes this through doctors and nurses. Sometimes pain cannot be completely cured but can only be managed. This is also God's way of taking care of our bodies. But this underscores that it is not our job as Christians, who are not necessarily medical professionals, to relieve pain and suffering. Our job is to point the person to the foot of the cross. There at the foot of the cross God is seen. There the true hope for the sufferer is found. 

The question of why we must suffer comes up often. Eyer writes, “Why God chose to make himself known in the midst of suffering on a cross, God only knows. Perhaps, if speculation is allowed, it is because it is there that we need him most. Or perhaps it is there that we least expect to see God, yet God does come—on his own terms, by grace.”[30] Nowhere else should we look for God than in suffering and especially the suffering of Christ on the cross. We cannot help but come back to Christ’s suffering again and again for it becomes the only hope we have. Luther answers this question as well in a sermon he writes on the cross and suffering during Lent:

In the third place we want also to consider why it is that our Lord God sends us such suffering. And the reason is that in this way he wants to make us conformed to the image of his dear Son, Christ, so that we may become like him here in suffering and there in that life to come in honor and glory [cf. Rom. 8:29; 8:17; II Tim. 2:11–12], … The second reason is this, that even though God does not want to assault and torment us, the devil does, and he cannot abide the Word. … Thirdly, it is also highly necessary that we suffer not only that God may prove his honor, power, and strength against the devil, but also in order that when we are not in trouble and suffering this excellent treasure which we have may not merely make us sleepy and secure. … Lastly, Christian suffering is nobler and precious above all other human suffering because, since Christ himself suffered, he also hallowed the suffering of all Christians.[31]

Luther points us to a fourfold reason for suffering. These reasons are not the cause of the suffering but the good which comes from the suffering. Luther's answer to why God allows suffering is finally the good it brings to us. Luther points us to how suffering forms us to Christ (in Christ's suffering on the cross), how suffering is brought by the devil (because we believe in God), suffering helps to keep us from becoming secure in our sin (in the good times) and finally how Christian suffering is holy because it is suffering in Christ. Luther finally leads us to understand suffering not as evil but as necessary and good. Luther later preaches in the same sermon: “Since we know then that it is God's good pleasure that we should suffer, and that God's glory is manifested in our suffering, better than in any other way.”[32] God's glory is made manifest in our suffering. God is shown first and chiefly to us and then second to those around us. The Christian faces suffering very differently because of Christ's suffering on the cross. We do not suffer as those who have no hope but instead as those who have hope of the relief of our sufferings. 

Suffering and weakness are where God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity. In our own weakness and suffering God leads us to find that we are not able to provide for our needs. We are shown our true nature in original sin and our helplessness in the face of original sin. Finally, in Christ’s suffering and death we find how God has dealt with all human suffering. 

To those who suffer

Christians have a lot to offer to those who are suffering. The greatest thing we have to offer is Christ. To understand suffering though the theology of the cross is to understand suffering in light of the hope which we have in the forgiveness of sins. When we speak to those suffering we cannot let this be forgotten. 

We speak of the hope of God granting healing here but this does not become our focus. The comfort we bring is the future hope we have in Christ. This limits how we talk about healing. Healing is no longer the ultimate end, but only a gracious gift that points us to something greater.[33] St. Matthew in the fourth chapter of his Gospel makes it clear that Jesus heals bodies and not just souls. A note in The Lutheran Study Bible explains this passage: “healing. The various diseases and afflictions cataloged in v. 24 are evidence of how sin has spoiled God's creation. Jesus' healing miracles showed the nearness of God's reign and gave a foretaste of our final deliverance from disease and death.”[34] Earthly healing only goes to show us a little of what eternal life will be like. “For even if they are reborn and ‘renewed in the spirit of their minds’ [Eph. 4:23], this rebirth and renewal is not perfect in this world. Instead, it has only begun.”[35] Where the Formula of Concord speaks about the sanctification of a person it refers not only to our keeping the law but also has to the restoration of the body. 

As we speak to people about healing we can tell them God may grant them healing as a foretaste of what is to come in paradise. We can also tell the person who has no hope of physical or mental healing that God has not abandoned them, but in the life to come they will be restored completely and no longer suffer. For St. John tells us in Revelation: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We see here a complete reversal of the curse placed on Adam and Eve and all their descendants. We can now point those who seem to have no hope in this life to the hope which is to come. 

We certainly can pray for healing[36] but we do not think our prayer gives some kind of healing power. “It is important to see prayer, not as taking charge of life or death but as a way of putting all things into the hands of God and finding peace in doing so.”[37] We do not then depend on how well we pray to bring healing. We pray for healing the whole time knowing God is good and gracious and always does what is best for us. 

We pray in faith, trusting God and fearing him at the same time. We are often uncomfortable with the fear of God. The fear of God is not to be in terror of God. The fear of God is a filial fear, a fear that understands the person, or God, as always having your best interest in mind. This differs greatly from servile fear. Servile fear is the fear which only sees the person as having their best interest in mind. It could be said the father always has the son’s best interest in mind while the master only has his best interest in mind. Filial fear is the fear of God. We fear God in the way dear children fear their dear father. We know God always has our best interest in mind. 

We pray trusting that God will do what is best for us. Even if we do not ask for what is good God will only give to us what is good for us. This truth we know because God is our heavenly Father who cares for us and takes care of our every need. Eyer says, “To pray rightly, ‘Thy will be done’ is to trust that God's intentions toward us are good and gracious.”[38] Finally, “Prayer is not a tool of faith by which we control his control over our lives. Rather it is the conversation God began with us when he established a relationship with us in Baptism. As his children we can ask anything.”[39]

Pastors bring certain things that laity cannot. Pastors bring Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper to those who are suffering. It has not been given to all people to bring these means of grace to people in suffering. What laity bring, which many pastors cannot, is the comfort of Christian fellowship. While the pastor can be there and speak the truth of God's Word, he often does not bring the same comfort as a friend brings. We do not need to deny this truth. God gathers his people together into fellowship for the purpose of strengthening and upholding each other. This is not just to be done in the church or at pot lucks. It is while suffering that people need to be surrounded by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is one of the regular means by which God brings earthly comfort to those who are suffering. This happens in ordinary ways, such as a simple visit to a hospitalized or home-bound person. We do this out of our identity as sons and daughters of God who go and do works of mercy. 


This, you see, is the way we teach concerning suffering, and you should also accustom yourself to distinguish carefully between the suffering of Christ and all other suffering and know that his is a heavenly suffering and ours is worldly, that his suffering accomplishes everything, while ours does nothing except that we become conformed to Christ, and that therefore the suffering of Christ is the suffering of a lord, whereas ours is the suffering of a servant.[40]

Understanding suffering comes from understanding the suffering of Christ on the cross. By our suffering we do not become more qualified for heaven. By Christ's suffering we are given forgiveness and eternal life. As we face suffering in this world we understand that we cannot avoid all suffering. When it comes, we know that in our suffering and weakness we see Christ. There we are lead to the foot of the cross to be forgiven and receive healing of this body which is a foretaste of what is to come in the next life. Finally, our hope is never in this life but in the life to come. As we suffer and we go to those who are suffering we bring the comfort of the life to come. We hear the words of Joy F. Patterson in the hymn “When Aimless Violence Takes Those We Love”:

Our faith may flicker low, and hope grow dim,

Yet You, O God, are with us in our pain;

You grieve with us and for us day by day,

And with us, sharing sorrow, will remain. 

Because Your Son knew agony and loss, 

Felt desolation, grief and scorn and shame,

We know You will be with us, come what may,

Your loving presence near, always the same. 

Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord,

To trust Your grace for courage to endure,

To rest our souls in Your supporting love,

And find our hope within Your mercy sure.

(“When Aimless Violence Take Those We Love,” LSB 764, stanzas 3–5)

Rev. Adam Welton is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Presho, SD, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Reliance, SD.

As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.

[1] Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputations, 1518 (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 3.

[2] Ernest G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), 327.

[3] Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, 327–8.

[4] John T. Pless, Study Guide for: On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde, distributed in PMM 150, 2–3.

[5] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 71.

[6] “Theologians of the cross are therefore those whose eyes have been turned away from the quest for glory by the cross, who have eyes only for what is visible, what is actually there to be seen of God, the suffering and despised crucified Jesus.” Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 79.

[7] Steven D. Paulson, Lutheran theology (London: T & T Clark International, 2011), 54.

[8] Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 57–8.

[9] “Luther called this kind of self-aggrandizing, success-centered, power spirituality ‘the theology of glory.’ Of course its attraction is understandable. Naturally we want success, victories, and happiness. We will be attracted to any religion that can promise us such things.” Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, 58.

[10] LW 27:9.

[11] For a discussion of the implications of cold deism, see James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 52.

[12] LW 51:197.

[13] LW 51:198.

[14] Making Sense out of Suffering (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2006), 2.

[15] Richard C. Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (St. Louis: Concordia, 1994), 28.

[16] Joel Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith” (accessed 15 March 2014).

[17] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[18] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[19] Osteen, "Don't Be Limited by the Lack of Faith.”

[20] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 81.

[21] Making Sense of Suffering, 1.

[22] FC SD I:9

[23] FC SD I:13

[24] Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 184.

[25] “Seldom can sickness be traced back to a specific sin in an individual's life, and, if there is one, the pastoral counselor is advised to support the parishioner's voluntary discovery of this sin for himself rather than pointing it out to him.” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 46.

[26] Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 84.

[27] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 25.

[28] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 58.

[29] “Pain can be defined as a greater or lesser degree of physical discomfort. … Suffering, on the other hand, can be defined as the existential anxiety, fear, worry, or hopelessness that may or may not accompany pain. Suffering is a reaction to pain.” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 44.

[30] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 48.

[31] LW 51:206.

[32] LW 51:208.

[33] “Healing is a sign of hope for things greater than physical welfare” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62).

[34] Edward Engelbrecht and Paul E. Deterding, ed., The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2009), 1585. Note on Matthew 4:23.

[35] FC EP VI, 4.

[36] “However, we are invited to pray against all odds of illness” Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 61.

[37] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62.

[38] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 59.

[39] Eyer, Pastoral Care under the Cross, 62.

[40] LW 51:208.