Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Surprised by Suffering"

Suffering hurts.

We've probably all been there to one degree or another. Suffering causes us to ask what we really believe. We may wonder why we have to suffer. Suffering also lends itself to questions of death and life after death.

We all need to take time to be certain what we believe about these issues before we find ourselves in the middle of suffering. When we are in the midst of great pain (whether physical, emotional, or both), we are in no position to try to decide what we believe.

R.C. Sproul has written a helpful book on the topic of suffering. Surprised by Suffering: the Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life is really more like two books in one. In the first half of the book, Sproul focuses his attention on suffering in this present life. He offers sound biblical arguments that should lead to greater understanding of this difficult issue.

In the second half of this text, Sproul switches his attention to life after death, in particular for the Christian. After shooting down popular secular ideas of what the afterlife might look like, Sproul lets the bible inform us. He shows that the bible teaches that to die is gain. Then, looking in Revelation and other books, he shows us why. I appreciate his biblical description of heaven.

If you or someone you know wants to think through these issues, this book would be a good place to begin.

Order it here.


Aussie John said...


I haven't read the book, so my comment has nothing to do with what R.C. has written.

Suffering has so many facets that it is to say the least, naive to place all suffering under the one broad category.

I do want to say that no matter what the pain and suffering, my wife and I, and our family, have found that our great Sovereign God is faithful to His own, healing the pain sometimes, and enabling one to go on in the midst of the anguish at others. Never once have we had any sense of being ignored or let down by Him.

Occasionally valuable lessons have been learned, especially regarding priorities.

My wife was born with a congenital defect in her ankle, which caused her increasingly great suffering. At times I felt so helpless as I watched her lovely face reflecting what was happening as she did what wives and mothers always do. A procedure to alleviate the pain became available five years ago.

Twenty five years ago I was diagnosed with chronic osteo-arthritis. I am on twenty four hour pain medication.

My wife and I have suffered the heart wrenching emotional pain of having Christians (?) making false accusations which had permanent life changing effects on us. The sense of betrayal that came with that, and which one has to experience to appreciate, was exacerbated when those we thought were brethren and close friends disappeared into thin air.

These days the pain is different again, because of my inability to travel, preventing us from being able to see our children and grandchildren who are scattered over the Eastern states.

I'm not having a pity-fest but affirming that no matter what the suffering, or to what degree, "He who has called us is faithful"!

Eric said...


Thanks for sharing your situation with me. You have certainly been through a lot. You are so right that god is always faithful.

As for this book, it would be helpful for someone (maybe a relatively new believer) who has never thought through these issues. It is fairly basic. It would be a good gift.

Steve Scott said...

"We all need to take time to be certain what we believe about these issues before we find ourselves in the middle of suffering. When we are in the midst of great pain (whether physical, emotional, or both), we are in no position to try to decide what we believe."

Eric, if I understand this statement correctly I think I need to disagree. I knew everything I needed to believe about these issues (or at least I thought), having received plenty of instruction about them, until I actually went through (and am still going through) serious suffering. Being in great pain and suffering has actually been more theologically instructive than the rest of my Christian life combined.

I can echo what John said in some amount of empathy, and agree that suffering has many facets. One needs to experience it first hand (i.e. Job) and not merely have a theological system in place, no matter how much thought goes into it (i.e. Job's friends).

Eric said...


Thanks for commenting. First, let me say that I'm sorry you are suffering right now. May God give you grace to endure (and I'm sure He is).

I think I understand what you are saying. But let me humbly ask a couple of questions: Where do we obtain our primary, authoritative knowledge and instruction life? Is it from scripture or from experience?

Steve Scott said...


Thanks for the reply. I think I might know where you're going with this, so let me clarify something. Of course, the authoritative knowledge and instruction come from scripture. But applying it to life (wisdom) is ongoing experience. We as men create systems of how knowledge is applied, no matter how small the system. We are often wrong about our assumptions of how to apply this knowledge. It quite often takes experience to know that a certain system is wrong or has flaws.

It can be taught that A+B=C with thousands of churches joining in on the teaching. If I experience D as a result, I can use that to more closely examine A+B. I can find that A+B was actually misinterpreted. I find the better answer in scripture, but I had to experience D in God's plan for him to reveal it to me. Even if the holders of A+B=C say that anybody that experiences D has some other problem. As an example of this, I've revised my ecclesiology several times as a result of problems in life. "Oh, now I know why A+B didn't result in C. God didn't design it that way."

Another facet of suffering is "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" David understood it to a point, Christ lived it. We may be able to fit that into our theology, but experiencing it can lend great understanding to the meaning. Christ knows something about it that I don't. Does this make sense? Thanks again.

Eric said...


Thanks for explaining. I understand and appreciate what you have said. I agree with you that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Certainly experience does help us better understand what scripture has to say.

My hope is that Christians will think through the issue of suffering and come to the biblical conclusions that God is sovereign and that God will use our suffering to His glory. I hope that they will cling to these truths as they enter times of suffering instead of trying to figure them out as they go through the pain.

Thanks again.