Archives For suffering

Francis Anderson, in his splendid little commentary on Job, compares how human beings view suffering with the biblical view:

Men seek an explanation of suffering in cause and effect. They look backwards for a connection between prior sin and present suffering. The Bible looks forward in hope and seeks explanations, not so much in origins as in goals. The purpose of suffering is seen, not in its cause, but in its result. The man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him (Jn 9:3). But sometimes good never seems to come out of evil. Men wait in vain. They find God’s slowness irksome. They lose heart, and often lose faith. The Bible commends God’s self-restraint. The outworkings of His justice through the long processes of history, which sometimes require spans of many centuries, are part of existence in time. It is easier to see the hand of God in spectacular and immediate acts, and the sinner who is not instantly corrected is likely to despise God’s delay in executing justice as a sign that He is indifferent or even absent. We have to be patient as God Himself to see the end result, or to go on living in faith without seeing. In due season we shall reap, if we do not give up.

This Fall, I am super motivated to be used by God to help people prepare for the sorts of crises we will all inevitably face. Tim Keller writing on the importance of preparing for a crisis before it happens:

Once you are in a crisis, there is no time to sit down to give substantive study and attention to parts of the Bible. As a working pastor for nearly four decades, I have often sat beside people who were going through terrible troubles and silently wished they had take the time to learn more about their faith before the tidal wave of trouble had engulfed them.

See also: If You Never Did Anything in Advance, There is Relatively Little You Can Do At the Time

Good theology will help us avoid blaming God (“I hate Thee”) or improperly blaming ourselves (“I hate me”) when we face great difficulty.

I continue to prepare for my Fall series on the book of Job. As a part of my preparation, I am benefiting immensely from Tim Keller’s excellent book on suffering. I will post more on it in the days to come. It is one of the best books I have ever read.

Keller rightly points out that when facing suffering we must hold two truths in tension:

  • Suffering is just. The reason there is suffering is because humanity has rebelled against God. Our rebellion began with Adam and Eve’s sin, but we continue to make wrong decisions and there are consequences.
  • Suffering is unjust. At the same time, there is not always an immediate reason why we suffer. If someone endures a trial, it does not mean that the person sinned in some way. Trying to assign particular sins to particular difficulties was the error Job’s friends made when they told Job that his difficulties must have been due to some sin in his life.

Keller warns:

If we ignore either of these truths, we will be out of touch with the universe as it really is. If we forget the first truth –that, in general, suffering is just — we will fall into proud, resentful self-pity that bitterly rejects the goodness or even the existence of God. If we forget the second truth — that, in particular suffering is often unjust — we may be trapped in inordinate guilt and the belief that God must have abandoned us.  These teachings eliminate what could be called both the “I hate thee” response–debilitating anger toward God – – and the “I hate me” response – – devastating guilt and a sense of personal failure. Counselors know what an enormous number of people fall into one or the other – – or both of these abysses. This balance – – that God is just and will bring final justice, but life in the meantime is often deeply unfair – – keeps us from many deadly errors. If we end up in one abyss or the other, it will be due to being unwise, “incompetent with regard to the realities of life.” (Keller, 139).

See also:

Does the book of Job offer an explanation for why people suffer?

Christian books on pain and suffering

4 Wrong Answers to the Question, “Why me?”

“Job is a fireball book”

Chris —  June 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

I continue to think about the family in our community who lost everything in a fire at the same time that their twelve year old’s son was broken in an accident. At the same time, I am preparing my fall preaching series at the Red Brick Church on the book of Job. You probably recall that Job is the Old Testament man who lost everything through a series of tragedies. In preparing today I read this quote from a new commentary by Christopher Ash on the book of Job:

Job is a fireball of a book. It is a staggeringly honest book. It is a book that knows what people actually say and think – – not just what they say publicly in church. It knows what people say behind closed doors and in whispers, and it knows what we say in our tears. It is not merely an academic book. If we listen to it carefully, it will touch us, trouble us, and unsettle us at a deep level.

I am praying, even as I prepare, that God will use this series to encourage many who hurt, or will hurt.

Haddon Robinson's Lake Geneva Study Group with John WaltonI am preparing to preach this coming fall on the book of Job. This week, I am studying with a group with Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College. One of the first questions that comes up when studying Job is whether or not the book of Job offers an explanation of why bad things happen to good people.

Theologians use the term “theodicy” to refer to explanations of why evil exists.  A theodicy speaks to the question, “If God is good and all-powerful, how do we explain the existence of evil?”

In preaching Job this fall, I will stress  that the purpose of the book of Job is not to explain suffering (D.V.)  In fact, the purpose of Job on some level is to show that suffering cannot be understood. God’s ways are completely beyond ours (38-39). So Walton contends, “The role of the book of Job is to perform the radical surgery that separates theology from theodicy, contending that in the end Yahweh’s justice must be accepted on faith rather than worked out philosophically (Walton, 41).”

To be sure, Job’s suffering is front and center. His pain cannot be missed. But Longman contends that wisdom, not suffering, is the subject of Job (462). “Job’s suffering is the occasion for discussing wisdom (Longman, 462).” Walton identifies the purpose of the book as an evaluation of God’s policies – – more on the purpose of Job later. The point in this post is that the purpose of the book of Job is not to provide a tidy answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While it is true that Job does not offer an explanation of why suffering takes place, the book of Job does help us understand suffering more. Longman writes:

That does not mean that the book of Job makes no contribution to our understanding of suffering, but it does so predominantly in a negative sense. In particular, it loudly and clearly denies that suffering is the result of sin or that all suffering has the purpose of discipline. The cause of suffering is much too complex to be reduced to a single explanation that can be applied to every case. The book of Job serves as a warning to those who want to judge others based on the quality of their life (Longman, 462).

Estes adds:

Although the book of Job does not formally address the problem of evil, which asks why innocent people suffer in a world governed by a God who is all-good and all-powerful, it does provide several insights that relate to the issue. The book teaches that suffering is not always attributable to personal sin. It also indicates that factors beyond human control can intrude, such as the suffering that Job experienced at the instigation of the adversary. Job’s final response reveals that suffering can result in instruction and growth, as God brings good out of evil. Ultimately, the book of Job brings the reader to realize that the explanation for why good people suffer must be left in the realm of divine mystery, but that Yahweh can be trusted, even when humans cannot comprehend his ways (Estes, 5).

I’m not preaching on Job to the fall . . . my understanding is still very much a work in progress! And my understanding will be a work in progress even after I preach it! But by the fall, I will be much further.

See Christians need not be intellectually troubled that they can’t exhaustively explain why God allows evil and Why is There Evil and Suffering?

See also Christopher Ansberry’s comparison of Walton and Longman’s commentaries.



Hurting On Mother’s Day

Chris —  May 8, 2014 — 11 Comments

Hurting on Mothers DayMother’s Day is a wonderful time to be thankful for maternity. But the celebration of Mother’s Day can also focus pain.*

I am taking the time this week to pray on my knees for women in several categories. I know specific ladies in nearly all of these categories. And I know some who are in multiple categories.

Who have I missed?

  1. Mothers who miss their mothers
  2. Women who have mothers with Alzheimers, dementia, or other illnesses that require care.
  3. Mothers who have lost a child: such incredible grief – See Christian books on pain and suffering
  4. Women (couples) struggling with infertility
  5. Women (couples) who could not have children and now watch friends with grandchildren
  6. Women who had abusive or neglectful mothers including some who even abandoned them
  7. Women who clash with their mothers on a personality level
  8. Mothers who miss husbands who have died
  9. Women (couples) who are trying to adopt and yet continue to be met with obstacles – See these posts on Russ Moore’s book here and here.
  10. Women grieved by rebellious children (see this post) and how parents should unpack forgiveness with rebellious children
  11. Single women who battle loneliness
  12. Mothers who regret how they raised their children
  13. Mothers battling “empty nest” syndrome
  14. Mothers who are estranged from their children and cannot see their grandchildren
  15. Single mothers trying to do everything on their own
  16. Women who chose not to have children and feel ostracized or out of place amongst other Christians.
  17. Mothers overwhelmed by financial concerns
  18. Mothers worn out physically who are facing other physical problems
  19. Mothers battling depression
  20. Mothers who have gone through a painful divorce or who are in painful marriages
  21. Mothers who regret abortions

Do be encouraged by the gospel. As one of the comments below said, “For some, Mother’s Day is difficult because of their experience or non-experience with their mother. Yet it can be transformed into something that is more positive when they think about how God provided someone to fill that void.”

*I will be updating and editing this as I receive input. I have already received excellent input. I have already made 4 revisions based on input in the comments.

Christian books on pain and suffering shouldn’t give simplistic answers. Yancey is right, “Why?” is a question that doesn’t go away.

I am preparing for a series on Job this fall at the Red Brick Church- – and I’m a pastor – – and a person living in a fallen world – – all of which means I read a great deal on suffering. Today, I’ve been encouraged by reading Philip Yancey’s honest, raw interaction with the Japanese Tsunami, the murder of children at Sandyhook elementary in Newtown, Boston and other awful tragedies.

Did you know?

  • The earthquake that struck Japan and caused the Tsunami released 600 million times more energy than the atomic bombs that fell on Japan (Yancey, 45).
  • 410,000 automobiles were destroyed in the Tsunami.
  • Approximately 19,000 people were killed or are missing.


There are no trite answers to suffering. In fact, simplistic answers are insulting. But there is real comfort in Yancey’s book.

Thankfully, there are a number of thoughtful Christan books on pain and suffering.

I will soon be reading carefully reading Tim Keller’s highly recommended Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.

I have previously recommended Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil.

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, is also excellent.

TGC Nunez

Pastor Miguel Nuenez interacts with an important pastoral question.

This controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. Those of us who grew up Roman Catholic have always heard suicide is a mortal sin that irretrievably sends people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. However, for Luther, the Devil is capable of oppressing (not possessing) a believer to the point of pushing him to commit the sin of suicide (Table Talk, Vol 54:29). As the salvation became better understood, many Reformation thinkers and theologians distanced their views from the Church of Rome.

Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

a) A true Christian would never commit suicide, since God wouldn’t allow it.

b) A Christian may commit suicide, but would lose his salvation.

c) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

So what does the Bible say?

Let’s begin by talking about those truths we know as revealed in God’s Word . . .

Read the rest here.

iStock_000001124202XSmallBeloved, do not be surprised . . . (1 Peter 4:12)

This October, someone may jump out from behind a tree and scare the daylights out of you. That’s not your fault. Hooligans have no business taking advantage of jumpy people such as ourselves. As the author of Unpacking Forgiveness, I give you permission to withhold their caramel apples. We’ll come up with a verse to justify our behavior later.

But if it’s okay to be surprised by people who jump out of the shadows, there are challenges that come up in the Christian life that really should not make us jump. In fact, we can fully expect that these challenges are going to come leaping out of the darkness. Rather than being surprised by them, we should spot them before they try and catch us off guard. Below I share three challenges that should never surprise a local church.

Don’t Be Surprised By:

  1. A Shortage of Workers – Since Noah tried to get his family to stack up gopher wood, there has been an abundant harvest but a shortage of workers (Matthew 9:35-38). If your church is struggling to find workers, don’t be surprised. Don’t imagine that there are churches where recruiting is easy. It’s always a challenge. If someone tells you it is easy at their church to find enough help, don’t believe them. God wants us to be on our knees pleading for workers. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself doing so. For more, read Struggling to Find Workers at Your Church.
  2. Painful Trials – God allows suffering into the lives of believers for many reasons. Suffering and difficulties humble us and teach us patience (James 1:2-4). They soften us so that we can comfort others in their suffering (2 Corinthians 1:6). They show us that we are weak and God is strong (2 Corinthians 4:7). If you do not have a trial currently, then thank God. But the week isn’t over yet. Expect trials and be prepared to count it all joy.
  3. Conflicts When Your Church is Moving Forward – In a fallen world, any time God’s people are moving forward, we can expect opposition. Paul summarized it well at Ephesus. There is a wide door, but many oppose me (1 Cor 16:9). In World War II, no one got shot at flying over Des Moines. But things got a bit dicey over Berlin. Likewise, if your church is making headway for the glory of Christ, then expect some anti-aircraft fire from the evil one (Ephesians 6:13). For more, read Expect Conflict.

What else shouldn’t surprise Christians?

Of course, we do look forward to being surprised when Jesus returns – – – And that will be soon!

What President Reagan said to school-children following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident:

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

You can read the whole thing here or watch below. It is under 5 minutes.