Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

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Sainthood . . . service . . . suffering. What do these have to do with each other? What do they have to do with our hurting world? How can a better understand of sainthood, service, and suffering make a difference in our lives, and through us in the world?
These are questions I hope to answer in this series.
I’ve chosen to address these topics, in part, as a response to last week’s rampage at Virginia Tech. The actions of one terribly disturbed human being have caused widespread suffering, most of all to the families and friends of those who were killed, but also to all who are part of Virginia Tech, and in many ways to all of us in this country. In the last week, there has been much discussion of what we can do as a society to prevent such tragedies from happening again. This is an important conversation, and it will surely continue for many months.
This blog series is a part of that larger conversation, though it focuses on an area where I believe I can say something of value. I’m not going to talk about a security on university campuses, or about how to deal with people who are mentally ill, or about how our society can keep dangerous people from possessing guns. Rather, I want to focus on the question of how Christians can live in the world in such a way that we can make a tangible difference in it. At times that difference will help to comfort the grieving. And at times we’ll be able to bring God’s love and peace to troubled souls, perhaps even keeping them from doing terrible harm to others or to themselves. (The painting to the right, by Giotto, pictures St. Francis and St. Clare, two so-called “saints” who made a major difference in the world through their service.)
I say perhaps, because there’s no way of knowing what our efforts to care for people, troubled or not, will produce. Christians are called to love people in response to and imitation of a loving God, not because our efforts to love will necessary make people’s lives better. But I have seen many instances in which God’s love, mediated through caring Christians, has transformed the lives of hurting people. I’ve seen withdrawn people come out of their shells, mean people become more kind, and self-centered people start to have compassion for others because of compassion they have received.
This series on Sainthood, Service, and Suffering will discuss how Christians ought to live out their faith in the world. Thus I will be speaking primarily to my Christian readers. But there will be much of relevance to non-Christian folk as well. If you are not a Christian, not only will this series help you understand more of what Christianity is all about, but also it may encourage you to live differently, no matter what you religious beliefs may be. If you are a Christian, I hope this series will help you grasp your distinctive identity as a “saint” and see, perhaps in a new way, how you might live out this identity in the world.
(Note: This series includes elements from my now out-of-print book, After “I Believe.” If you’ve read that book, you might recognize some parts of this series, though much will be new and all of it will be re-worked.)

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