The discussion seems to have forked into three different threads:
1) Why are Evangelicals unfeeling?
2) What is a healthy Christian attitude to suffering?
3) Why do Evangelicals attempt to proselytise at times of suffering?
1) You Orthodox may be angered, saddened, grieved or just plain mystified by the unreal response to others’ suffering which you sometimes encounter from Evangelicals – a denial of the human side of the tragedy. We Evangelicals have to live with it when we encounter it! You are right – it is a strand of Evangelical piety. But why?
First let me say that not all Evangelicals are like that, and there are pastors and Christians who are deep, sensitive, warm, strong and compassionate at times when others suffer.
Secondly, let me say that I believe this lack of appropriate response to suffering is a fairly recent development, not an essential integral part of Evangelical spirituality. I do not think I have found it in the writings, biographical or otherwise, of the 17th and 18th centuries, but it seems to me to begin to creep in in the second half of the 19th century, and you get choruses asserting things like, “And now I am happy all the day.” (The original hymn was by Isaac Watts, but the chorus was, I believe, added many years later in the Moody and Sankey era). I never choose it when preaching, and I refuse to sing it when someone else does: it is unreal.
It seems that the idea has spread that a Christian should always be joyful, and that if he is not it somehow reflects badly on God or on Evangelicalism. Now of course “the joy of the Lord is your strength” and during my three years of worst personal suffering, 2002-5, it is true that I never lost “the joy of the Lord” like a sort of underground stream. That was graciously permanent, but the suffering was not lessened. People wrongly equate “joy” (a spiritual fruit) with “happiness” (a natural emotion deriving from good circumstances), and they think they should be happy all the time, otherwise it discredits God. So they deny suffering and pretend to themselves and others that they are permanently happy.
They also believe they should live permanently in a high state of faith, standing on the belief (quite right) that God works for good in all things. But the “faith” whereby they attempt to espy the hoped-for happy outcome can make them recoil from the very deep and real sufferings through which people are going. Again, it is living in a sort of denial.
Living in denial concerning the presence, strength and reality of suffering renders them insensitive to the sufferings of others, and their clumsy attempts at counsel come over as unreal, detached from reality, and unhelpful. Their words lack insight and compassion.
Then there is the fact that many of them have probably never suffered. We live in a cosseted society – wealth, prosperity, good medical care, plentiful nutritious diet, long life. Many people, Christian or not, have never yet experienced real trouble, and are unfitted to handle it when they encounter it in others.
Lastly, we also live in a society which denies suffering, or at least denies death. Instead of grieving deeply and painfully over the death of loved ones, people hold funerals in which poems are read out asserting fatuous nonsense like death being nothing at all, only going into the next room. Then they hive off to the pub or someone’s home and start chatting, gossiping, flirting, drinking, and putting the starkness of death and indeed of their own mortality out of their minds.
Evangelicals live in this luxurious, death-denying society and are (or can be), alas, affected by its Zeitgeist.
2) Concerning a more wholesome response to suffering, I need add nothing to the excellent posts from our Coptic brother.
3) Why do Evangelicals cash in on others’ times of suffering in order to proselytise?
First, let me say we do not see it as proselytising, and a less pejorative word would be appropriate. We give not a fig for what church a man belongs to, when he is happy, or suffering, or dying; we only care that he should put his faith in Christ and, by repentance and faith, be able (if alive and suffering) to lay hold of the presence and help which comes from the Lord, and (if dying) be able to go in peace to meet his Maker. Whether a person is Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist or whatever, we desire to do our best to be sure he lives and dies in personal faith in God’s Son. We do not see it as proselytising.
Why do we do it at times of suffering and death? Despite the denial of unpleasantness and mortality which pervades society, many people will briefly turn their minds to the possibility of God, heaven, judgement, hell, eternal life and like matters when starkly brought into contact with it – either by their own suffering, or perhaps the reality of death when a loved one dies – and it can be the only time their minds and hearts allow any openness to such important questions and matters. A funeral, for example, is often more or less the only time many people will go into a church, or contact a minister. Of course any attempt at evangelism at such times should, nay must, be undertaken in a spirit of sensitivity and compassion.