Immediate Aid, Eternal Relief

Why Christians Work for Both


The following is a lightly edited transcript.

Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Christians care about all suffering. That’s intended to prick the conscience of Christians who believe that caring about the suffering of disease or malnutrition or disability or mental illness or injury or abuse or assault or loneliness or rejection or calamity has to be restricted, because caring about these kinds of suffering may distract from or diminish our commitment to the gospel of Christ crucified and the use of it to relieve a far greater suffering, namely eternal suffering.

“Loving your neighbor as you love yourself is to feel compassion for all suffering.”

And the first point of this sentence is: No, Christians care about all suffering because Jesus is our model. Over and over and over in the Gospels, it says, Jesus cared or felt compassion on the harassed crowds (Matthew 9:36), and on the sick (Matthew 14:14), and on the hungry (Matthew 15:32), and on the blind (Matthew 20:34), and on the leper (Mark 1:41), and on the demon-possessed (Mark 9:22), and on the bereaved (Luke 7:13).

And then he told a parable to try to help us absorb what it means for us to be like that. And in the parable he said that when the Samaritan saw the stranger on the side of the road, suffering, he felt compassion (Luke 10:33). Jesus is unpacking the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself” there (Matthew 22:39), for part of the soul’s disposition of loving your neighbor as you love yourself is to feel compassion for all suffering — to care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

The word especially is designed to call out the unbelief of Christians who either don’t believe there is such a thing as eternal suffering, or who have convinced themselves it is more loving not to warn people about it — not to plead with them to escape it by the provision God has made through the death and resurrection of his Son. For whatever reason, they don’t care, and I want to call them out. I want you to call them out because Jesus cared about eternal suffering.

Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” . . . And these [on his left] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41, 46)

Jesus cared enough to warn us. Paul cared too.

Those who do not know God and . . . do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9)

John, the beloved disciple, used stronger language than anybody for the length and the intensity of eternal suffering:

The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. (Revelation 14:11)

Jesus, Paul, and John really cared about eternal suffering. Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller asked, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them?” Millions of Christians, including many missionaries, have convinced themselves that they are loving lost people by caring mostly about their suffering in this world, and little about how they will spend eternity.

“Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.”

I just read an article about the reaching of an unreached people. It began by foregrounding the beneficial earthly effects of missionary work — education, medicine, prosperity, written language — and ended with a focus on earthly human flourishing, with one passing mention about Jesus in the middle of the article. No God, no wrath, no cross, no salvation, no forgiveness of sins, no faith, no hell, no heaven, no eternal joy with God. And it was presented as a model of missionary success. I don’t know if the writer reported faithfully. It was the presentation I was concerned about.

So, my prayer for you, especially for the graduates, is that you absolutely reject the either-or: either relieve suffering now, or plead with people to escape eternal suffering and embrace eternal joy through Jesus Christ. I hope you will say No to the soul-destroying dichotomy and even the prioritizing of temporal good over eternal good.

I hope that for the rest of your life, you will say, Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.


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