Late last year, I read an amazing article about a pastor who became friends with the notoriously disgraced Ted Haggard. (For those of you who don’t keep up with such things, Ted Haggard was a prominent conservative Evangelical pastor who had been caught hiring a male prostitute to join him at hotels for “massages” and crystal meth.) After his scandal broke, Haggard had gotten counseling and then restarted his ministry. Most of us watching from the outside scoffed at the idea of him as a legitimate minister at that point. But in that article, his reluctant friend described Haggard as “excited that the only people who would talk to him now were the truly broken and hurt”. Think about that. Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” And that’s what those of us who are following in his footsteps are supposed to be doing as well. Prior to his scandal, Haggard was the leader of the National Association of Evangelical Churches. He was a founder of a large church in Colorado Springs. This was a man who was surrounded by and ministering almost entirely to the righteous (or at least the outwardly righteous). It was only after he was disgraced and lost everything that he found himself walking in the steps of Christ serving those who, like himself, were too broken to even hide their sin and sickness.
Now, I certainly don’t mean to imply that hiring prostitutes and using drugs is a great way to put yourself on the road to serving Christ. But I do think that the story of Ted Haggard has something to teach us. Most Christians want nothing more than to live safe, respectable and prosperous lives. And we are loathe to do anything which would imperil that. To the extent that this allows us to avoid sin, that is fine. But too often, the result is that we are also avoiding becoming the sort of people who can really reach out and serve those who are not righteous but broken.
Of course, life is not always so kind as to only send you troubles which you have chosen to set yourself up for. Accidents, injuries, sickness, loss and other human beings often intrude on even the most carefully constructed lives. And when they do, the nearly universal response is to ask the basically useless question, “why me?” We feel that somehow life has been unfair to us. We line up all the reasons we don’t deserve our injuries or the scandal of failure as evidence of how unfair life is being to us. But as the saying famously goes, life isn’t about us.
Ritu Ghatourey has said, “some of the most comforting words that can be heard are me too. That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle and that you’re not alone fighting that same battle.” One of the things which I have come to suspect as I’ve walked through my own struggles is that so far as there is a reason for the bad things which happen, it may be for just this reason. If I, like Christ, am supposed to be serving and tending to the broken, what can I offer if have never been broken myself?
If our primary goal is to be comfortable and safe and we eschew following God or life into places where scandal, poverty and suffering may result, we may well find ourselves too comfortable and clueless to help the broken. And how might the knowledge that we are gaining insight, empathy and understanding which will allow us to minister to others in need change our attitudes about our own suffering? If we understand our primary work to be loving, serving and healing ourselves and each other, then no suffering is pointless. No loss is irredeemable. Whatever we are going through, it can be used by God and by us in the ongoing process of redeeming this world.
After all, this is exactly what God did for us. He became as one of us – he shared in our suffering. He emptied himself and took on our reality as his own. We have a savior who knows what tempts us, what hurts us, what we struggle with and how dark and confusing this life can be. Rather than viewing suffering, scandal and loss as terrible things to be avoided, part of following Jesus and sharing in his suffering may mean doing the same for each other.