Monday, November 25, 2013

what I'm reading: 25 writers on suffering

Be still my soul is another fantastic collection of reflections on suffering by Nancy Guthrie (I've also written about Holding on to hope and Hearing Jesus speak into your sorrow).

What I love about these books is the way you can read just a short section and go away encouraged. This is important when you're struggling and can't face a long, theologically dense book.

This time Nancy Guthrie has done the collecting rather than the writing. Be still my soul includes short reflections by 25 writers, from Martin Luther to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Corrie ten Boom.

So far, my favourite reflection is by Os Guiness. (How I love his books! He deserves to be more widely read.) He understands anguish, and he knows the only ground for hope. I'll let the master wordsmith speak for himself.
Suffering is the most acute trial that faith can face, and the questions it raises are the sharpest, the most insistent, and the most damaging that faith will meet.

Can faith bear the pain and still trust God, suspending judgment and resting in the knowledge that God is there, God is good, and God knows best? Or will the pain be so great that only meaning will make it endurable so that reason must be pressed further and further and judgments must be made?

To suffer is one thing, to suffer without meaning is another, but to suffer and choose not to press for any meaning is worst of all. Yet that is the suicidal submission that faith’s suspension of judgment seems to involve.

We suffer, we look up, we cry out, we pray, we tear our hearts out, but there is no answer. The heavens are brass, the gates are locked, the phone is busy, and in the ringing nothingness of silence we wonder if God was ever there.

If the Christian’s faith is to be itself and let God be God at such times, it must suspend judgment and say, “Father, I do not understand you, but I trust you.”

The test of suffering reveals whether our "knowing why" is an irreducible bedrock conviction grounded in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, or whether our faith is resting to any degree on what is not bedrock but sand.

We do not know why, but we know why we trust God who knows why.

For the Christian, the cry of Jesus, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" will always have depths of meaning that the human mind can never fathom. But one thing at least it means. None of us can sink so low that God has not gone lower still.

When we see Jesus on the cross we can come to trust God with an unutterable trust that never for a moment considers he will not stand by us in our sufferings.

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