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Paul Tournier, the famous Swiss physician and counselor, reported his surprise in his book Creative Suffering upon reading an article entitled “Orphans Lead the World.” The article appeared in a respected medical journal and surveyed the lives of 300 leaders who had an impact on world history. The author searched for a common thread to explain their influence. He discovered they had all grown up as orphans. His list included Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Robespierre, George Washington, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and Castro. Tournier himself had been an orphan. His father, a minister, died two months after his birth and his mother died of breast cancer when he was six years old.

Tournier said, “So there we are giving lectures on how important it is for a child’s development to have a father and a mother performing harmoniously together their respective roles towards him. And all at once we find that this is the very thing that those who have been most influential in world history have not had!”

Soon afterward, his wife died, and he felt orphaned again in old age. Before this, he viewed each major event of life, success or tragedy, as either good or evil. However, he began to view circumstances, fortunate or unfortunate, as morally neutral. They simply are what they are; what matters is how we respond to them. Good and evil, in the moral sense, do not reside in things, but always in people.

This changed the way he approached medicine and cared for people. He said, “Only rarely are we the masters of events, but (along with those who help us) we are responsible for our reactions….suffering is never beneficial in itself, and must always be fought against. What counts is the way a person reacts in the face of suffering.”

He used the analogy of a nutcracker. Unforeseen calamities apply force that can break through the hard outer shell of personal security. The act of breaking will cause pain, of course, but it need not destroy. To the contrary, in the right environment the disarray can lead to creative growth: when old routines and behavioral patterns no longer work, the patient, exposed and vulnerable, must seek new ones. Tournier said that the role of the doctor, minister, or loving friend is simply to keep the nutcracker of circumstances from destroying, and to help the sufferer see that even the worst hardships open up the potential for growth and development. I want to talk about the Holy Spirit being that loving friend in the life of a Christian in times of suffering.

Christians are encouraged by the Holy Spirit in this world of suffering because of our special privileges as God’s adopted children. What special privileges do we have as God’s adopted children?

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