Suffering is a topic which poses many perplexing questions for Christians. Earlier this year Stephen Fry attacked the idea of a loving God/god who permits young children to be ravaged by cancer. He proceeded to share some of the things he would say to this God/god if he stands before him at the end of time. Sadly, although Stephen Fry a very intelligent and often perceptive man, most of what he proposed to tell this God/god was borne out of ignorance.
Nevertheless, his objection is a common one. Therefore, it is one which we as Christians, in defence of the Christian God, must have some way of explaining. Below are five books which have aided my thinking through this difficult issue:
Unsurprisingly, Carson has offered yet another priceless contribution to a pertinent subject for Christians. Carson’s book is biblically based, pastorally profitable and a truly thorough treatment of the topic. All of his work is stamped with clarity, and this is no different.
The book is beneficially divided into three sections. In the first section he makes some preliminary, but nonetheless important, comments on thinking through the issue of suffering. It is of a great help to have these things clear in our minds before proceeding. The second section moves through biblical themes and suffering, including sin, natural disasters, holy wars, death, Job and the suffering God. A final section then deals with the big picture idea, with some pastoral reflections. This book is beneficial because it is a comprehensive yet readable treatment of the issue. In my opinion this is the go to book on suffering!
This book’s unique contribution to this subject is found in the angle that Harris takes on suffering. Rather than looking at the typical biblical examples such as Job, Joseph or Paul, Harris ties his discussion of the topic to Jesus’ teaching and his transfiguration. I have never come across a discussion on suffering that approached the subject from this angle.
Additionally, Harris reveals through the book that he and his family have suffered much also. This means that even though he pushes his readers toward understanding God’s greater purposes in suffering, and his ultimate glory through his people’s suffering, he does so having walked that road himself. In my opinion, even though it is not as full a treatment of suffering as Carson’s book, it is a must read on this subject because of its unique approach.
- Mark R. Talbot – When All Hope Has Died: Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essay’s in Honour of John Piper (2010) and John Piper – Suffering: The Sacrifice of Christian Hedonism in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (2003)
John Piper has given the church a great gift with his persistent teaching that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him. Christians can not only be happy, but should be happy; stronger than that: must be happy. In fact, happiness is not the most apt term; rather it is joy that we must pursue. The reason being, true, lasting and full joy is found only in God.
In Talbot’s essay he offers a magnificently detailed treatise expounding Piper’s theology of suffering. This theology is set out by Piper himself, albeit slightly briefly, in the chapter mentioned above from Piper’s book Desiring God. Finding joy in suffering is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued. These articles encourage that.
Although these are not books they are invaluable treatments of this topic which should be consulted.
It is always beneficial to be aware of how different generations of Christians have thought about issues. This reprinting, by Banner of Truth, of the Puritan Thomas Watson’s treatment of Romans 8:28 is a helpful and insightful addition to the discussion. The real benefit of this brief book is the close attention paid to the meaning of Romans 8:28. Watson is a lucid writer, very memorable and full of wisdom. Even though this was originally published in 1663, it is easily accessible by the reader. It is well worth a read, even if just to set Romans 8:28 in its proper context.
This is an interesting book on the topic of suffering. Guinness would certainly not be called orthodox, conservative or conventional by most Christians. Indeed, many of his answers and conclusions would not always be considered biblical and on many occasions they are far from satisfying. However, this book is a good read on this issue because it poses many questions and forces us to think through them honestly. This approach to the topic may make many Christians feel uncomfortable, but it is important that we read slightly alternative takes on the issue. Guinness does not offer trite answers and so we are provoked consider this issue deeply – which can only be good.