This isn’t one of those books in which I assure you, from the comfort of my safe, suburban home, that everything happens for a reason.
This isn’t one of those books that treats Christianity like a self-help regimen, in which I promise that if you live a certain way, you will earn Jesus Points that are redeemable for cash value.
This isn’t a book that lectures you for suffering because you clearly have some unrecognized sin in your life.
So, what kind of book is this?
In a nutshell, this is a book for people who have heard one too many times that all things, from bankruptcy to child abuse to genocide, happen according to God’s will (and the fact that they haven’t throat-punched anyone for saying this is a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit).
This is a book for people who have watched a loved one slowly, painfully slip away from a terminal illness – and feel hot flashes of anger every time they see a Facebook post that praises God for healing someone else of the exact same illness.
This is a book for people who initially turned to Jesus because he offered hope in the midst of trials – but they look at other Christians around them who praise God for things like parking spaces and football championships and wonder if they are worshiping the same God.
To be sure, much ink has been spilled over the centuries about the purpose of suffering. I don’t have much to contribute to that – how can I? I only have half a seminary degree in biblical counseling. While I have experienced some legitimate hardships, most of my problems can be chalked up to those of a privileged, upper-middle-class white girl. At this time, I’ve just broken off the seal of a new era called The Thirties. What wisdom, if any, can I offer?
I can tell you some of the reasons I became a Christian in the first place: many of which had to do with the need for a strong spiritual context in which to place the pain I felt. I needed a God who empathized with pain because he, too, had lived it.
I can tell you how my faith was deepened during some of the worst crises in my life – and how, while I wish those crises didn’t happen, I am a better disciple because of them.
Some people pull away from God when life is overwhelmingly painful. I sympathize with such Christians, but I’ve always been the opposite: it’s hard for me to feel close to God when everything is going well. I tend to open my Bible more and hound him with prayer after prayer when I’m struggling through something. The truth is, when my life is going well, I sometimes forget to pray – even just to say, “thank you.”
Not everyone will suffer the exact same way. But for most of the population, issues of financial despondency, grief, loss, and disappointment will crop up in some form or another. I am of the belief that these things happen because we live in a fallen world – not because God is testing us, punishing us, or getting some twisted pleasure out of poking us with a stick.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention that some instances of suffering – systemic, global forms of suffering rooted in human cruelty and greed, such as war, extreme poverty, genocide, rape, domestic violence, child abuse – are beyond explanation. The answers for those are above my pay grade. “Because of sin” would be the simple answer, but I’m no fan of the simple answer. Far be it from me to tell the battered wife, the assault survivor, or the neglected child that their pain can be used for good. I can’t fathom being so callous.
So please know that when I use terms like “pain” and “suffering” in this book, I am referring to common setbacks that affect many of us at some point: financial strains, loss of relationships, failures, and general disappointments. I am referring to the suffering that cannot be easily explained: terminal illness, fertility issues, or homes that get swept away by hurricanes. The types of tragedies that affect the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, alike.
At no point do I want to imply that such events are good things. Rather, I hope to suggest that, in the midst of the wreckage, something beautiful can occasionally rise up.
Sometimes, though, you really have to look hard for it. With a magnifying glass.
I believe in a God who walks with us through all seasons – whose heart breaks with ours.
More to the point: I believe that the cross is the central point of Christianity – but many Christians have forgotten this.
Many of us are familiar with the command from Matthew 16:24-26: “Pick up your cross and follow me, for whoever tries to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Those are difficult words to swallow, yet we live in a culture of bedazzled crosses on necklaces, purses, and Bible covers. We seem to have forgotten that the cross is actually a torture device. True, it was eventually transformed into a symbol of hope, but many of us tend to treat it as if that’s all it ever was.
I don’t intend to demean anyone who has ever doubted God’s goodness during a season of crisis – it’s perfectly natural to do that. What I intend to do instead is try to shift our focus and reframe our mindset as we experience whatever hand we get dealt in life.
I’m not suggesting that we embrace the probability of suffering, as some legendary martyrs are said to have done. You have every right to feel hot anger at anyone who quotes James 1:2-4 at you the moment you receive the worst news of your life (“Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance”). It’s okay to be angry at God when terrible things happen. It’s okay to complain. It’s okay to grieve.
It’s perfectly fine to pray for healing, for a better job, for safety during a dangerous storm. But it’s important to remember that Jesus’ desperate prayer on the night before his crucifixion to take away this cup of suffering went unanswered. If God didn’t spare his begotten son from excruciating pain, how much can we expect to be spared?
When we pray for healing, or deliverance of some other kind, perhaps we should also consider the addendum, “But if the worst should happen, prepare me with the tools I need to get through this, and let my faith be stronger as a result.”
Pre-order the book here. Releasing September 25th.