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Jerry Sittser leads retreat on adversity

By Sr. Mary Eucharista, SMMC

The death of someone close—a parent, a spouse, a child—can be a devastating, life-changing tragedy.

Jerry Sittser

A catastrophic event occurred for Jerry Sittser of Whitworth University on the day a drunk driver stole the lives of his mother, wife and daughter. It seems a person can only endure so much pain in a single lifetime, and Jerry’s adversity was multiplied in a single event.

This loss will never be erased from his life, he has said. He was overwhelmed and shocked by this suffering, but he was not destroyed.

“Adversity is a universal human condition, something we share in common, and often in ways we least expect. It is not a question of whether we will experience it, but when, and we can’t prepare for it directly,” Jerry said in a recent interview.

“That experience used to drive people to God and the Gospel. Now it is used as an argument against the existence of God: God’s on trial, in a way,” he said.

“We operate under the assumption that we are entitled to a good life. When we don’t get it, we hold God responsible. As entitlement grows, our capacity to understand grace diminishes,” he said.

Jerry will offer a retreat, “Our Suffering, God’s Suffering,” from 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 20, through lunch, Sunday, Jan. 22, at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, 6910 S. Ben Burr Rd.

He will address the “raw experience of adversity,” creating a space for participants to reflect on their own adversity.

Jerry pointed out that it doesn’t have to be dramatic to be erosive and painful. Some of the most erosive occasions of adversity are subtle or quiet, something shameful or hidden, he said.

During the retreat, Jerry will explore ways of thinking about adversity, as well as practical ways of responding to it, especially from a Christian perspective. 

“Because we all deal with it in some way, our choice concerns how we deal with it in ways that are redemptive,” he said. “I will focus on key texts in Scripture, consider the big ideas around a redemptive approach to adversity and allow for ample time for personal reflection.”

For example, he will explore John 11, how Mary and Martha wanted a reversal of fortune, a resuscitation of their brother Lazarus.  Jesus promised more than that, a resurrection, a new kind of life that never ends.

Jerry teaches the history of Christianity, Christian spirituality and religion in American public life at Whitworth.  He founded the certification for ministry program, the masters of arts in theology and the Academy of Christian discipleship.  He is half-time professor of theology and half-time with the Office for Church Engagement.

Jerry grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., attended Hope College and Fuller Theological Seminary, earning a master’s of divinity.  He served as an associate pastor at Emmanuel Reformed Church in Paramount, Calif., for four years, then as chaplain at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa for six years, returning to study at the University of Chicago to earn a doctoral degree in the history of Christianity.  He has been at Whitworth since 1989.

His eight books include A Grace Disguised:  How the Soul Grows through Loss, When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer and his most recent book, A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life.

For information, call 448-1224 or visit

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