Good theology is esential if we are going to suffer well. It will help us persevere during our trials, and it will give us hope. We believe that "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5). It is faith in our good and sovereign God that enables us to wait until the morning. But we must never forget that often the night is long and the weeping uncontrollable.(175)
So begins Dustin Shramek's essay "Waiting for the Morning during the Long Night of Weeping" in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God,an excellent book edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. The book is actually a collection of chapters written by several different authors: John Piper, Mark R. Talbot, Stephen F. Saint, Carl F. Ellis, Jr., David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Joni Eareckson Tada. These writings are organized under three main headings: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering, The Purposes of God in Suffering, and The Grace of God in Suffering.
The chapters cover the spectrum of Christian writing styles, from the deep and complex theological treatment "All the Good That is Ours in Christ":Seeing God's Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us (by Mark Talbot)to the more conversational yet Biblically-rooted easier-to-read Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions (by Stephen Saint.) The former has enough footnotes to make even the most stalwart scholar go pale, but in all fairness to Talbot, he does warn us that we should read it through first without the footnotes, and then re-read it with them. Once I did that, his meaning was clear and I truly enjoyed his writing style. I liked the fact that there were several different authors with varied styles and different perspectives on suffering. It also helped to know what intense suffering some of them have gone through in their own lives, which gives them credibility and lends weight to their statements.
What did I learn from this book? There are too many things to list them all here, so I'll just hit the highlights:
John Piper gives an excellent explanation for God's sovereignty over suffering, and how God's ordaining of something we consider "evil" happening does not mean that He is the cause of the evil Himself. Piper gives us ten areas in which God is sovereign over Satan, explaining each one thoroughly. In later chapters, Piper deals with the sufferings of Christ and the question of WHY? that so many of us ask ourselves about our own sufferings. (The short answer to the WHY? question is "Because it brings God glory." The long answer is given by Piper in describing six different things that suffering does or produces in our lives, which in turn bring God glory.)
The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The highest, clearest, surest display of that glory is in the suffering of the best Person in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. Therefore, the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God. (89)
Mark Talbot explains the theology of the sovereignty of God over evil VERY thoroughly, working into his chapter an explanation of Open Theism and then refuting it.
Stephen Saint offers a very well-thought-out argument for the idea that God not only "allowed" his father's death, but actually "planned" it and then says:
You know what my conclusion is? I don't think God merely tolerated my dad's death. I don't think he turned away when it was happening. I think he planned it. Otherwise I don't think it would have happened. This was a hard realization for me to come to. I once said that while speaking at a church, and a man came up afterwards and said, "Don't you ever say that again about my God." Afterward I found these verses in Acts 2: "Men of Israel, listen to these words. Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, you know he was God. You nailed him to a cross, you godless people. But he was delivered up to you by the predetermined plan of God." vv. 22-23. Then I thought: Don't anybody tell me that this can't be. If God could plan the death of his own righteous Son, why couldn't he plan the death of my dad? (117)
Joni Eareckson Tada gives invaluable insight from her many years of suffering as a quadriplegic, and the other authors' chapters are good, also.
Several things in this book convicted me about my own attitudes and actions. I felt struck in the face by Ellis' idea that "In essence, we reenact the fall every time we give in to temptation." (123) OUCH!!! What a concept! I realized that I need to stop and take stock of my own life, my sins, my giving in to temptation, before I complain about any suffering I may be enduring. I need to place God's glory above my pain. I need to stop asking "WHY?" and start looking for how God is being glorified through this experience.
To put it all in perspective, here is my favorite paragraph from the book, in Ellis' chapter:
In many ways suffering is a mystery. I take comfort in what Francis Schaeffer told me many times: "We only see the debit side of the ledger now. We don't see the credit side yet. When we see the whole ledger we will say, 'Oh, why didn't I see it that way before?'" This is why the Bible tells us to see now by faith. Though suffering is a mystery to us, it is not a mystery to God. Mysteries may be painful, but they should not perplex us. To God, there is no mystery. He is satisfied because He sees the whole ledger. We will also be satisfied when we see things from God's perspective. Till then, we must learn to be satisfied with God's satisfaction. If we do, we will have peace.(125-126)
If you are currently suffering in some way, or if you work with or are just friends with someone who is, I urge you to read this book.