CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Seven Helpful New Books on the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Sep 18, 2018

Suffering is a perennial problem and we are all affected by it at least to some extent. It is part of what it is to be human in a fallen world. And we all have varying bouts of hardships and trials to endure. I personally know of others who are currently going through some really difficult paths:

-Some parents whose children have gone through some terrible experiences at school
-Believers who has been harshly mistreated by other Christians
-Parents who have a suicidal child
-Couples who are going through marital breakdown
-Children of Christian parents who reject the faith
-Those who have recently lost close loved ones
-Devout Christians who are suffering all sorts of debilitating physical ailments
-Those praying for decades that family members would come to know Christ

The list of hardships and suffering are endless, and when all these tough times overwhelm us, we all ask the same questions: Why? Why me? Why God? Because suffering and evil are such universal features of life, there have of course been countless books written on these issues from a Christian point of view.

There are numerous theological, philosophical and apologetic treatments of the problems of suffering and evil. As an indication of what is available on this, in 2011 I offered a list of 55 books on suffering and evil penned during just the past half century which are all quite good in dealing with these themes: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/09/21/readings-in-theodicy/

Those titles just scratched the surface of what is available, but they demonstrate that there are many worthwhile treatments of the problem of suffering and evil. Here I want to briefly note seven new books which have all appeared in the past year or two.

These volumes will take the approach mentioned above to some extent, but they mainly offer us more of a pastoral approach. That is, how we can counsel and console the sufferer make up a large part of these volumes. Of course they also contain plenty of biblical and theological material to help make the case, and some apologetics concerns arise as well.

Since all of these volumes happen to be available from Koorong Books, for Australian book lovers (or sufferers), I also provide a link to each one after my brief summary. Here then are seven new and quite helpful volumes on this difficult topic:

Bickel, Bruce and Stan Jantz, Answering the Toughest Questions About Suffering and Evil. Bethany House, 2017.

As the title indicates, this volume is mostly devoted to an apologetics approach to the problem of suffering. While plenty of massive intellectual volumes exist on the issue of theodicy and the like, one can still benefit from brief (170pp) yet comprehensive treatments like this.

The authors cover many of the bases and deal with many of the common objections to God and Christianity when it comes to evil and suffering. Thus they have helpful chapters on how evil came about to begin with; why the innocent suffer; the issue of violence, especially as found in the Old Testament; and some purposes for suffering.
www.koorong.com/search/product/answering-the-toughest-questions-about-god-and-the/9780764218705.jhtml

Borthwick, Paul and Dave Ripper, The Fellowship of the Suffering: How Hardship Shapes Us for Ministry and Mission. IVP, 2018.

A major theme of this important book is that “the kingdom of God advances greatly through suffering”. Many believers today may not want to hear such a message, but the missionary and pastor team who penned this book know the importance of all this.

While we may not seek out suffering, we should not run away from it, nor seek to fully avoid it, knowing that a loving and wise God is in charge of our steps. We join in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, which enables us to have deeper fellowship with others, and the lessons learned further prepare us for the ministries God has for us.

The Apostle Paul – who knew all about suffering – features prominently in this treatment of the topic. As with Paul, the authors cover various types of pain and suffering that we can experience, including physical and emotional pain, as well as persecution and various trials.

By combining helpful biblical insights and discussion with personal experience and stories, the authors present a very helpful look at this issue. By giving us the Scriptural perspective on these matters, they encourage us to recognise the benefits of suffering, realising how we can find comfort and consolation in the midst of our trials, and grow closer to Christ and others in the process.
www.koorong.com/search/product/the-fellowship-of-the-suffering-how-hardship-shapes/9780830845309.jhtml

Carson, D. A. and Kathleen Nielson, eds., Resurrection Life in a World of Suffering: 1 Peter. Crossway, 2018.

All five chapters of 1 Peter discuss the issue of suffering. In this collection of essays a number of experts look at what Peter seeks to tell us about this important theme. Authors include Nielson, Carson and John Piper. A short but useful look at this topic, from papers delivered at a 2016 conference.

The words found in 1 Peter are helpful words indeed on this topic, and the commentary on his words found in this book help make them come alive and relevant to our times of suffering 2000 years later. A useful volume which offers the contemporary believer hope and comfort in their times of darkness and distress.
www.koorong.com/search/product/resurrection-life-in-a-world-of-suffering-1/9781433557002.jhtml

Furman, Dave, Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials. Crossway, 2018.

The title of this volume harkens back to the words of Charles Spurgeon and how we need perseverance as we go through trials and hardships. The great English preacher knew all about pain and difficulties, with physical, emotional and spiritual suffering afflicting him throughout his ministry.

And he also long struggled with deep bouts of depression. But, said Spurgeon, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” His deep and reassuring belief in God’s sovereignty and care of his creatures allowed him to embrace his sufferings, and not run from them. Here the American pastor who is not yet 40 years of old seeks to expand upon this theme.

He himself suffers from physical disabilities and suffering, but he is able to share the biblical message about this in a realistic and hope-filled fashion. He finishes this very practical book with another quote from Spurgeon: “They who dive into the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.” And this book also produces plenty of incisive and helpful pearls. Well done Pastor Furman for this really useful and God-honouring volume.
www.koorong.com/search/product/kiss-the-wave-embracing-god-in-your-trials/9781433556456.jhtml

Gregg, Brian Han, What Does the Bible Say About Suffering? IVP, 2016.

This is a helpful biblical and theological treatment of the issue of pain and suffering. Like most of the books here it does not go beyond 200 pages, so it is quite accessible to most readers. But its brevity does not mean we get a skimpy or threadbare treatment of the topic.

The biblical studies professor offers us a comprehensive and detailed look at the biblical material on this subject. Meaty chapters discuss such things as: the origins of sin, Satan and evil; the mystery of suffering; the purposes of God and the purposes of suffering; suffering as training and testing; the suffering God that we worship; and necessity of the cruciform life. A very useful discussion of the Scriptural data on this really tough issue.
www.koorong.com/search/product/what-does-the-bible-say-about-suffering-brian/9780830851454.jhtml

Kapic, Kelly, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. IVP, 2017.

As the subtitle of this book points out, this volume offers helpful reflections and stories that point us to a very workable and useful theology of suffering. The heart of the book centres on the glorious truth that God has embodied himself in our lives via the Incarnation of Christ, and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to our own suffering.

Because God is not physical but a spirit, he may seem aloof and untouched by our physical hardships and suffering. But in becoming a man just like us, God knows all about suffering in the flesh. As the American theological studies professor puts it in his concluding chapter:

“In Jesus the Son of God, we discover God’s solidarity with us, not just a fellow feeling but a redemptive solidarity. He absorbs our sin and enters into our pain, including our physical suffering and even death, not merely to better understand it but in order to overcome it.” There is a lot of solid meat in this sensitive and wise volume.
www.koorong.com/search/product/embodied-hope-a-theological-meditation-on-pain-and/9780830851799.jhtml

Powlison, David, God’s Grace in Your Suffering. Crossway, 2018.

Although this is the shortest volume of these seven – just 120 pages – it is still a very valuable inclusion here. Powlison offers pastoral and practical counsel for those who find themselves in the midst of suffering. Like most of the other authors here, he realises that affliction is not good in and of itself. But with God lovingly looking after us, he can take our affliction and suffering and transform it.

And he can transform us as well – into better, more godly people. The grace God gives to us in our trials allows us to share in Christ and his sufferings, and enables us to offer real grace, help and hope to others who are also suffering. At the end of this helpful work Powlison challenges us to ask, not ‘Why me?’ but ‘Why not me?’ That is a good perspective to have, and this book helps us to be able to get to that important place.
www.koorong.com/search/product/gods-grace-in-your-suffering-david-powlison/9781433556180.jhtml

So, whether for yourself, or for a friend, here are seven really useful, really wise, really biblical, and really practical books that will be of real assistance as we all go through the hard, dark times of life. I am afraid it is too difficult for me to single out just one of these books.

Perhaps the brief reviews I have offered on each one will help you discern which volume is best for you.

[1649 words]

4 Responses to Seven Helpful New Books on the Problem of Pain and Suffering

  • It’s so encouraging to know that books such as these are being written. With an over supply of books on ‘Your Best Life Now’ it’s easy to think that the experience of suffering is something we bring on ourselves through our own lack of faith. It’s good to be reassured in writings such as these that suffering, pain and wilderness experiences are the common lot of Christians and our best life is not now but yet to come.

  • As ever, thanks for your scholarship Bill.

  • Thanks Bill. Some of these I will definitely pick up at some stage.
    This subject has been something I haven’t been able to avoid for some time now due to various types of suffering in recent years.

    I’m sure they’ll all be very popular at one’s local megachurch…….. Not.

  • Looks like some real gems here. I just sat down at the computer this a.m. to order a book called Wholly Coping, to help me cope better with living with the chronic pain of my husband. (20 years since our car accident). Thanks Bill!

Leave a Reply