Topics tend to get covered in waves. A couple years ago, it seemed like all anyone could write about was marriage (with authors sharing intimate details ranging from “appropriately helpful” to “I feel dirty and need a shower”). A while before that, poverty and social justice were the big things. Lately, it seems like suffering is the topic du jour.
But that’s not a bad thing.
Without question, every single one of us, at some point in our lives, will experience suffering. It might be something devastating, like divorce, cancer or the death of a spouse. Or maybe it’ll be a less severe, but still painful, like losing a job, the death of a beloved family pet, or learning your child is a Bieber fan.
So we know suffering is a real thing and none of us are excused—so why do we need so many books on it?
While I’m sure there are many reasons, my gut says it’s simply this: We don’t know how to deal with things we pretend don’t exist. We’ve spent so much time denying the reality of suffering as a culture that we have no ability to cope with it effectively. But, as Tim Keller points out in his new book, “Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.”[1. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, 13]
This was certainly my experience—for about a year and a half prior to my wife having a miscarriage, I’d felt compelled to develop a theology of suffering. So, I did what was natural: I spent time reading Job and read a few books, the most helpful of which was D.A. Carson’s How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. When the miscarriage happened—along with the complications from it—it still hit me like a freight train; it still hurt. And the fear of losing my wife was all too real. But here’s what didn’t happen:
I wasn’t compelled to have a “Why, God, why?” moment. I wasn’t angry with God. I wasn’t resentful. Instead, I was able to find comfort in the God who is sovereign over all of things, including suffering.
Reading good books[2. And by that I mean biblically faithful ones] on suffering is like preventative medicine—it’s a way to train yourself to better know and trust Him and His purposes before the unexpected happens. Although it’s not a pleasant subject, it’s so necessary. Reading a good book on suffering is good for your soul.
What’s a good book you’ve read on suffering—how was it helpful to you?