Bruce Rogers-Vaughn, who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School, identifies three orders of suffering that afflict people today.
First order suffering, which accompanies the human condition, includes illness, death, and grief.
Second order suffering is distress caused by human behavior that may be collective or individual, indirect or direct.
Third order suffering is a new variety that comes when people find themselves spiritually homeless, left to their own devices to deal with distress. Third order suffering often goes unrecognized as suffering, even by its victims.
Rogers-Vaughn identifies the combination of third order suffering and its distortions of the first and second orders as something terribly widespread,
“the new chronic” characteristic of our world. This new chronic is rooted in
extreme, pervasive individualism and produces isolating, calculating, and deadening forms of existence.
What ways of care are available to counteract this new chronic? Rogers-Vaughn believes that the primary resource is healthy collectives and movements (including faith communities) that aid people to find their footing, that embody the care of soul. These collectives do not give precise measurements for the future, but provide spaces where we can safely listen together in hope.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington