As a Christian, how do I bring comfort and the Lord’s consolation to someone who is suffering?

What answers can we provide to someone whose mother is dying in a hospice? Whose parents are undergoing a difficult divorce? Who is struggling to make ends meet because of a crippling financial debt? What do we say to someone who is grieving a daughter who suddenly passed away?  What can be said to someone who is recovering through addiction, or a broken relationship? How do we reach out to someone who is suffering in a toxic work environment? What about the person who has a chronic or terminal illness?

Suffering comes in various forms, sometimes as a consequence of our own sin and mistakes, but oftentimes, as something that is unexplainable. We cannot also say that one person’s suffering is any less than of another person’s.

In Hebrew, the word, “suffering” translates to sevel סֵבֶל and has connotations of deep physical, spiritual, mental, psychological, or emotional pain and anguish that may be felt by a person. Etymologically, it can be traced to a surprising origin meaning that refers to labour and toil. We suffer because of labour and toil, but in this suffering, this leads to a new word, savlanut (סבלנות) which blooms from its root of suffering to become patience or tolerance (Sabar 2016;, n.d.)

The human tendency is to avoid suffering. We do whatever we can so as to mitigate the possibilities as far as it is possible so as to shun suffering. Unfortunately, this may also lead to idolatry. In a desperate bid to control our lives as much as we can, and in a horrible attempt to avoid any suffering we turn to things like Zodiacs and Astrologies so that we may breathe a sigh of relief at having avoided the “pain points” which have been spelt out by some dodgy zodiac that we have put our wholehearted trust in.

As Christians, we too fall into the trap of wanting to fix and solve the suffering, desiring oftentimes in our own trials and tribulations for God to take the suffering away from us. For Christians, we must come to understand that suffering is not an option, but that suffering is an inevitable part of our faith. However, this suffering will only make sense if we begin to understand it from the point of suffering being redemptive and salvific. According to Pope St. John Paul II (1984) suffering directs Man to transcend beyond himself. Suffering must also result in conversion. The undergoing of suffering allows the person to rebuild goodness in himself and herself. This results in the grace to recognise Divine Mercy at work, and also fills us with the fortitude to overcome evil, in the strengthening of one’s relationships with others, and ultimately in repairing the relationship that one has with God.

The Jewish Talmud, looks at suffering from a poetic lens: Suffering is like the process of crushing an olive so as to obtain the finest filtration of the oil that the olive produces. The olive does not like the process of being plucked, shaken about, packed, and squashed, but needs to undergo these very necessary steps before the olive, pressed to the point of dissolution, can yield the richest crop of the inner oil that is so nutritious, delicious, and luminescent. What was once held together in a bitter, and hard encasing, is now broken apart to bring about the glorious treasure of oil within (Kalmenson & Abraham, n.d.)

Considering this Jewish understanding of suffering, it is a beautiful parallel and fitting that at the start of Jesus’ passion that he is found in an olive grove – the Garden of Gethsemane, where crushed under his suffering, he would soon become the new oil and the healing balm for this people.

The image of the La Pietà di Michelangelo comes to mind. Mary has just taken Jesus down from the cross. Holding his limp, lifeless, and cold body, she gazes at the body, her son with great tenderness and love. She does not say a word, but embraces her child. Mary herself is wounded, crushed by the death of her only son, brutalised by the unspeakable atrocities that she has witnessed inflicted upon the body of her darling baby boy. As she holds Jesus in her arms, she holds space for her pain, and she holds space for the disciples who see her quiet strength coming through.

As a Christian, the invitation of suffering, is never one that is inward looking, but is one that invites us as wounded healers to embrace the pains and the crosses of others. Having acknowledged our own frailties and sufferings, we begin the process of holding space for others. Looking to the crucifix, the culmination of Christian suffering, we begin to take on a supernatural ability as Richard Rohr eloquently puts, to stand in the gap and the liminal space, to balance upon the threshold, to hold the contraries, “until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.” (2016, pp. 120-121)

We do not need to do a lot for someone who is suffering, but we become the calm in their dysregulation, and we remind them that it is okay to rage, but that we are there, suffering together with them, just as Christ suffered on the cross for us.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan


References (n.d.). Suffering. Do it in Hebrew. Free Online Hebrew Dictionary. Retrieved February 4, 2024 from


Kalmenson, M. & Abraham, Z. (n.d.). Suffering: Tzarah from walls to windows. Retrieved February 4, 2024, from


Pope St. John Paul II. (1984). Salvifici Doloris. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from


Rohr, R. (2016). A Spring Within Us: A book of Daily Meditations. CAC Publications.


Sabar, Y. (2016). Hebrew word of the Week: savlanut. Jewish Journal. Retrieved February 4, 2024 from