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Ethics and Religion Talk: How Do You Address Suffering?

"What does your faith do to address your members' suffering?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Imam Kip Curnutt, Director of Religious Education and Associate Imam of Masjid At-Tawheed in Grand Rapids, responds:

“As humans, we all experience suffering at times. It is part of the nature of this world that we are tested with both ease and hardship. In times of hardship I always look to the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who was human enough to cry out of sadness but never despaired. He taught us that as human beings it is ok the feel pain and sadness but at the same time to never lose hope in the mercy of God. It is this balance that I think is the key to success in times of suffering. We have to accept our emotional nature and sit with the pain that we feel without denying or running from it. However, we don't let the pain make us forget that everything we our going through is part of God's plan for us. As it is mentioned in the Quran "No one despairs from the mercy of God except for a disbelieving people." With this perspective, it may be that an experience of suffering in the long run brings us closer to God and deepens our spiritual lives.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“What strikes me about this question is that I could not think off hand of any particular scriptural passages that could support what I would say on the subject. I then realized that I’ve never remembered reading anything in our vast canon of holy writ that requires us to lessen the suffering of others. I assume that if I searched hard enough I would. But I would ask you, do we really need to be told to do this? Shouldn’t it be second nature? 

“Now, I have heard plenty of lectures, and read plenty of articles by several of the great teachers of the Hindu Dharma that extoll the virtues of daya (compassion), dana (charitable giving), seva (selfless service) and karma-yoga (right action). And I see these noble qualities expressed in the world almost daily. So, I’m satisfied to know that I am called to relieve the suffering of not only my coreligionists, but anyone else as well. The Vedas (our foundational scriptures) consistently offer the message that in the ultimate sense we are all one. So, it goes without saying that in a real way, the removal of pain from another is the removal of pain from myself.”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“For a Christian, suffering always has meaning and purpose. It is never in vain. Suffering for us Christians is connected to the work of sanctification which God is doing in us. The Holy Spirit is molding us to look more and more like Jesus and trials are often the tool that he uses to do it. Even our mistakes and the mistakes of others upon us can be used for our good. For we know that what the Devil meant for evil, God will use for our good. In that hope we stand! The following passage better explains it: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4)”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“There are many ways we try to support those who are suffering. First, we start by acknowledging the person’s pain. Depending on what is the cause of the suffering we would offer support, in meals, comfort, companionship, financial support, and pastoral care. Some Unitarian Universalists might offer to say a prayer, but that would not be our only or primary way of supporting someone.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“Christians believe that Jesus achieved the most in terms of our salvation well accepting the suffering of his passion and the Cross. And he told those that would become his followers that they must also first take up their own cross. Our suffering--either for the benefit of another, or the self-denial needed in a life obedient to God--defines what it means to be a Christian. While other types of suffering may come from other sources such as illness or other tragedies, we can dedicate these in humble submission to the will of God to our love for him and in the midst of our suffering, grow in our humility and love and trust in the one who has done all for us.”

The Rev. Steven W. Manskar, a retired United Methodist pastor, responds:

“In the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition we pray with and for members who suffer. The congregation prepares and brings meals to the homes of persons or families struggling with serious illness and/or loss. The pastor and laity visit to be present with the persons or families who are suffering. We listen. We are present. We bring food. We pray. We anoint with oil.”


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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