The doctrine of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care in practicality had played vital roles in ministering to people emotional, psychological, spiritual, and human health well-being in Christendom. While pastors and lay ministers function in this ministry, God’s sovereignty has become obvious in circumstantial conditions of mankind in sickness, hardship, death, and terminal illness. In an effort to delineate on a segment of issues of pastoral care, this document synoptically discusses on the significance of pastoral care, the sovereignty of God in human sufferings, the impact of pastoral care on salvation, death, and sickness and my personal reflections on these issues.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “pastoral theology is the branch of practical theology concerned with the application of the study of religion in the context of regular church ministry. This approach to theology seeks to give practical expression to theology. Normally viewed as an ‘equipping’ of ministers, practical theology is often considered to be more pragmatic than speculative, indeed, essentially a practical science. Hence its main interests are in those areas of theology which will aid the clergyman in ministry. Topics tend to include homiletics, pastoral care, sacramental theology, and ethics.”
According to this definition, pastoral care is the subset of pastoral theology. In essence, pastoral theology is a broad based field of studies which include the above areas stated in its definition. In the ministry of pastoral care, it is expedient to know various issues regarding how we minister to patients regarding the theological issues surrounding the situation. For instance, how could you respond to a situation that has to do with euthanasia as a pastoral counselor? You must exhibit biblical ethics in dealing with such situation using the biblically and the theological based supports to deal with the issues. In pastoral care, the theological, the Biblical, the ethical, the hermeneutical, or the homiletically approach must be employed to deal with a particular situation arising at the time.
The idea of pastoral care usually relates to the cares of ministers carryout during the discharge of duties. According to the Webster dictionary, pastoral care refers to the ministries/services usually performed by a clergyman or pastor. In pastoral care, pastoral counselor, train ministers, and perform various ministries or services or dedicate responsibilities to ministers who assist him in the discharging of duties in the church and the ministries. Ramsey in his articles, writes,
“In the continuing journey of a pastoral caregiver, a developmental goal is certainly not to offer “proverbs of ashes” or to build up “defenses of clay.” Rather, we intend to communicate wisdom and serenity, we want to be resources for resisting despair. Yet who among us cannot remember pastoral conversations when we said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time? Who among us has not, in the face of human anguish, constructed psychological defenses built with the clay of her own anxiety?”
Pastoral care is helping others to ease their problems emotionally and psychologically through visitation, prayers, and counseling approach. In the book of Job, we see the friends of Job visiting him as the result of his plights; unfortunately, their counsels to Job theologically and Biblically were deficient in substance and essence. Only one of the counselors who is named Elihu identified with Job as the fellow sufferer; unlike, the other three were quite out of target when it comes to theology of suffering and pastoral care. It states in the following statement,
“The attitude of Elihu in chapter 33 is one of gentleness and sympathy toward Job. Unlike the three counselors, Elihu identified with Job as a fellow sufferer, and not just as an observer. To Elihu, suffering is among other things, a preventive measure to keep Job from perpetuating a sinful, false theology. This kind of suffering is called preventive suffering.”
In the book of Job, God is evaluating Job as it relates to his personality, character, and faithfulness. Despite of what Job went through, he did not give up even when his wife told him to curse God and die. He classified his wife as a foolish woman. In the book of Job, the sovereignty of God is seen. As we meet people who are facing problems of all kinds, we should understand that despite of the gravity of the problem people faced whether in sickness, terminal illness, divorce, death etc. God remains who he is. If God does not heal a sick person when we pray, we can not question him as the result of his sovereignty. Job was a faithful servant of God; however, God allowed Satan to inflict him with sickness.
God’s sovereignty is expressed in Job in various forms according to his will. In the book of Job, God presents his idea or purpose of suffering. He allows a believer to suffer as to prevent him or her from the coming calamity, to educate him or her regarding a particular situation, to make him or her organize as to put his priority into place, to discipline, to proclaim his judgment as the result of sin, and to glorify himself in the suffering of the faithful believer.
In view of suffering, God allows people to go through suffering as the result of these factors (prevention, pedagogical/educational, organizational, disciplinary, proclamation, and glorification). These theological aspects of pastoral care will eventually affect how I look at situations in time of salvation, sickness or depression, death etc. in the lives of people. In all of these, God remains God. Everything which happens under the sun, God knows why it happens. Does God allow sufferings or evils in this world? Even allowing them to thrive explains his inconceivable and inexplicable nature of his sovereignty.
According to the account in the book of Romans 5:12, human suffering is result of sin which has birthed sickness and death. People face suffering as the result of several reasons. It could be disobedience, faithfulness to God’s precepts and God desires to prove that person. Job is the example of this. Job needs not suffer because he was upright and the only righteous and faithful individual in the land. God did allow suffering because of disobedience. We also see record in the Old Testament concerning the children of Israel. The Babylonians and Assyrians took them to captivity as the result of disobedience. As we visit suffering people as pastoral counselors, we need to investigate the root cause of a particular problem existing at the time. Despite of negative feel back we receive, we have the responsibility to restore the individual in through prayer and counseling.
THE IMPART OF SICKNESS AND DEATH
Death and sickness have negative impact on the life of the suffering individual. As we visit sick or bereaved family, it becomes an opportunity to minister not only prayer to the sick, but also to give the individual Salvation (eternal life) by evangelizing to him or her. For the saved individual, we encourage him or her to trust God. For the bereaved family, we tend to minister to family members who do not know God through our lives and generosity. Your presence and encouragement to the family members who do not know God might cause them to come to Jesus.
In conclusion, the understanding of pastoral care incorporated into pastoral theology, God’s sovereignty, and human suffering dealt with in pastoral ministry is paramount to the diagnosing and effective delivery of services in both clinical and pastoral settings.
Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia.
Robert Appleton Company, 1913.
Janet, Ramsey L. Word & World, 31 no 4 Fall
- Ramsey, Janet L.Word & World, 31 no 4 Fall 2011, p 367-373.
Job Chapter 33.
 Job Chapters, 33, 34, and 37.