Did you notice the title of this blog entry? Usually, I will name the title of a book that I have read. This month is different because there are two books that the church is making available. They both deal with the topic of pain and suffering while asking the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” These books will help answer this question, but each book does it in a different way.
The first book, Be Still My Soul, is a collection of twenty-five excerpts of commentaries, books, and sermons that come from past and present Bible teachers. Compiled by Nancy Guthrie, she has selected some well-known contemporary authors like John Piper, Joni Earekson Tada, R. C. Sproul, and Corrie ten Boom. She also includes some famous teachers of the past like Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin, and Augustine. And I left out some of my favorites, like Jerry Bridges, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, and more.
You will find three sections in the book, outlined as God’s perspective, purpose, and provision in suffering. In Joni Earekson Tada’s chapter (God’s Plan A), she says this about her tragic accident as a teenager:
So I could ask, “Was my diving accident God’s fault?” Although he is sovereign, no, it was not his fault. Or I could ask “Was it an assault from the devil?” and say yes, it possibly was. Or I can just press further, asking, “Was it part of living in a fallen, wicked world, and not the direct assault of either the devil or God?” This may be the most likely scenario, but whichever the schematic, I have the comfort and confidence that the entire matter was under God’s overarching decrees, and that nothing happens in my life outside his loving plans for me.
Later she says, “I can smile, knowing God is accomplishing what he loves in my life-Christ in me, the hope of glory. And this is no Plan B for my life, but his good and loving Plan A.” You will find gems like this throughout the book. Have a highlighter ready.
The chapters are short and easy to digest, probably taking no more than 15 minutes to read. I read through the whole book rather quickly, but I think there would be great value in reading through one each week, perhaps reading through the same chapter several times during the week so that you will get a good grasp of what is taught.
The second book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is the newest book written by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. I recently read a recommendation that it would be wise for us to develop a Biblical theology of suffering before we have to experience it for ourselves. This would be the book to do just that. The author uses the image of a furnace to picture the work of suffering in the Christian’s life. While a furnace may be dangerous, it can also be used to shape us and refine us. He says that times of suffering “can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy.” This book will help you see it take place in your life.
One of my favorite features in the book are the personal stories that end most of the chapters, showing how someone has gone through a tough time and has personally seen how God and the Church has helped them through it, just like the title of the book says.
Like the first book, this one is also divided into three sections. The first section, Understanding the Furnace, gives a thorough description of how pain and suffering has been handled in various cultures and at various times in history. It provides valuable background information that will help the reader understand why people ask the questions about why God allows suffering. But even Keller admits that this section can be “too abstract” for the person who is presently going through a time of suffering. They will find more help in sections 2 and 3.
The second section, Facing the Furnace, begins to describe what the Bible says about suffering, including subjects like the sovereignty of God, the suffering of God, the cause of suffering, and other important doctrinal truths that are important to understand if you are to get through the trials that are bound to come.
Having the message from the first two sections will help us respond in ways that are laid out in scripture, which is why the final section is the real practical one. Called, Walking with God in the Furnace, this chapter provides the guidance we will need as suffering arrives. Here Keller takes normal Christian activity/disciplines (praying, trusting, walking, etc.) and applies them to how we can cope with the varieties of suffering that will come to us.
Both of these books will be a valuable addition to your home library. It would be surprising if you have never experienced some kind of pain or suffering. But if you haven’t, you better know it will come. These books will help prepare you. If you have already experienced it, you will probably be able to look back and see God’s hand in it all. And if you’re now in the middle of some type of suffering, you really need what these books will teach you.