How to Suffer Well as a Christian On the Internet

The unique process of learning to suffer well online.

by Douglas Groothuis

On October 21, 2016, I saw this short lament on my Facebook page:

Such an agonizing marathon, this living with my wife’s dementia. I wrote a whole manuscript on it, but that cannot begin to explain what my wife and I are feeling, each in such different and tormenting ways. Tears tell stories that only one can hear.

I wrote this post, just as I have written so many other laments about Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s descent into deeper and darker dimensions of dementia. The manuscript I mentioned is a forthcoming book called Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness and a Philosopher’s Lament (InterVarsity Press, 2017).

While I have been critical of how the internet can depersonalize and cheapen human communication, I have found that it may be—at its best—a safe and edifying place for sharing suffering and hope. Here, as everywhere, we should live well before others so that God will be glorified and shalom will be spread locally and globally.

Christians should aspire to do all things well, to be virtuous through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and according to the Holy Scriptures. This includes suffering in various settings. Jesus Christ did all things well, and he is our model. He was also “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3, ESV). The Lamb of God suffered much, even before the matchless suffering of the Cross. He endured and lamented his sometimes clueless disciples; he often endured religious leaders whose hearts and words were darkened; he faced and conquered the temptations of the Devil himself. At the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was outraged at death but then wept with the grieving—before raising the dead man to life. Of course, Jesus suffered the greatest and most egregious evil possible in his crucifixion: forgiving the sins of his enemies, committing his mother to proper care, crying out to God in anguish according to Psalm 22, and announcing, “It is finished.”

Suffering is a skill that we have but one chance to learn. In that deathless and joy-saturated far country that awaits us, there is no need for it; but I am sure the memory of suffering will remain, albeit reframed by a resurrected world with no curse, no tears, and no death. In the 21st century, there is a new arena for learning this difficult lesson, cyberspace, but how do we suffer rightly on the internet?

Migrating into Cyberspace

Twenty years ago when I was first researching the new-fangled world of the internet, the term cyberspace was accepted for all kinds of computer-mediated communication. When my shot-across-the bow book, The Soul in Cyberspace, was published in 1997, the forms of the internet were limited to email, chat rooms, webpages, video games, and a few other media. Today more and more of life has migrated into cyberspace and cyberspace has become much more integrated into our lives.

For example, in its first few years, Amazon offered mostly books and CDs. I was an early adopter! Now it offers a football field’s worth of products of every kind. The cell phone was primitive in 1997 and losing one was not existentially catastrophic. Today, losing a cell phone is like losing a big chunk of your life—all your contacts, financial setups, social media access, various monitoring technologies, and more. WikiLeaks can change the course of history and terrorists use the internet to recruit and to coordinate one massacre after another. Research often begins (and sometimes ends) with Wikipedia, a gigantic, crowd-sourced, and constantly changing organ of information. Social media, such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and Instagram, have become the preferred medium for personal interaction for millions worldwide. One could go on, but the point is that our lives are largely lived in cyberspace and that cyberspace has altered our lives.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today