Monday, October 22, 2012
The short answer is no. That's not what the book is advocating.
This is a book on suffering that I feel is more aimed at Christians than non-Christians. It does look at the reasons why we suffer in this world, and the various explanations for suffering that exist in the world. But I feel it's more to encourage Christians to adopt a right view of suffering, rather than look at it as an apologetic question.
When you think of suffering what comes to mind? My first thought is the impact of living in a fallen world - illness, poverty, inconvenient life circumstances like having no internet or your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. This is suffering, but the author of this great little book, Paul Grimmond, encourages Christians to reflect on a different sort of suffering - that is, suffering for following Christ. That is not to say that the New Testament is not interested in the fact that we still suffer from living in a fallen world, but it is not its main focus. The NT mostly focuses on preparing Christians for the reality of suffering and be persecuted for following the Lord Jesus (there is no Job or Ecclesiastes in the NT). We also suffer because the Lord is disciplining us, shaping us to be more like His Son.
My favourite chapter was Chapter 8: The Chapter That Doesn't Quite Belong - an odd title for a chapter that I thought fitted so perfectly. It explores the fact that Christians also suffer for Christ in a way that ISN'T persecution - it's the sorrow of seeing the world through God's eyes (page 121). I found this chapter particularly comforting and relevant as I have often grieved over friends and family who are living apart from Christ. I have felt despair over seeing people make poor choices because, as Christians, we know that true life is found in Christ. It saddens me when I see Christian brothers and sisters living sinfully. It's this longing for others' salvation and grief over sin that I was glad to see acknowledged as a form of suffering.
One thing that the book taught me was that I am too surprised by suffering. I still get outraged at suffering from sickness in this day and age. I still get indignant when people are rude. In this period between the fall and the renewed creation, I shouldn't be surprised by suffering. Jesus made it clear that His followers would suffer as He did. The Bible never sugarcoats the Christian life. Suffering is horrible, but it is to be expected.
So, back to my question about what it means to 'suffer well'. It means that we see suffering how God sees suffering. How does what we believe about suffering match up with what the Bible says? We need to interpret suffering in light of the Bible, and not the other way round. This is confronting and painful, but ultimately God's truth is much more comforting than anything else. This will equip us to 'suffer well' and be faithful to God by praising Him, doing good and waiting patiently while we suffer.
In order to 'suffer well' we need to have a right view of who God is. The non-Christian view of suffering is that because suffering exists either God doesn't exist (or why doesn't He stop it?), that He is incapable of stopping it, or that He is not good. But as we read the Bible, we see that God is not a bully who pulls the wings off flies as Grimmond puts it, but a God who has experienced suffering Himself in the person of Jesus. He suffered at the hands of His creation who have hated and rebelled against Him. He can identify with our pain. He is holy and righteous and loves us dearly.
A great book...and short (only 165 pages). But don't gobble it up in one sitting. Read it slowly and reflect.
This book is available from the Matthias Media Australian store here.
There is also a US store here.