Category Archives: Suffering

AGGRESSIVELY HAPPY

I almost did not read this book. The cover made me think it was going to be another one of those fluffy, feel-good books. You know, the kind in the end that leave you more convinced that Christians just can’t write honestly about the human condition.

Well, I am here to say that Joy’s splendid book is hardly spiritual pablum. Joy just finished her PhD at St. Andrews, she knows suffering firsthand, and yet she maintains a gritty confidence in Jesus Christ.

When you are my age (sixty-four, by the way), have a strong theological education, and constitutionally have a honed radar for drivel, you are ready to be disappointed by “popular” Christian books.

I was not disappointed!

The writing is beautiful, the insights are fresh, and the storytelling, even about the author’s own life is wonderful. Talking or writing about yourself is fraught with all kinds of potential hazards, but Joy avoids them. She is the winsome, fellow-traveler you would like to have as a guide and friend.

I usually read (meaning careful highlighting and note-taking) 50-60 books a year. I peruse hundreds of others. Aggressively Happy will definitely make my favorite book list for 2022, but now I feel another category needs to be added: Books that pleasantly surprised me.

I would love to open a bookstore someday. Well, not quite. Since my own teaching and writing makes that impossible, I would love to be the person who picks what gets stocked. If and when that happens, you can be sure to find this book on the shelves.

HONEST, HEART-WARMING, AND HOPEFUL

About seven years ago, I interviewed Todd on his recently released book, Rejoicing in Lament. It is a terrific book on a topic, namely lament, that is not well understood by us Americans.

When I saw that Todd’s new book on “embracing our mortality” was coming out, I knew it would be worth reading. Reading actually sounds like too tepid a word for engaging with The End of the Christian Life. Perhaps taking inventory of one’s life or pondering what really matters is better.

I won’t offer a long review, but a few things should be highlighted.

Todd is an honest, yet hopeful man. He does not curb the hard edges of living in mortal bodies. And Todd has a more acute sense of what this means since he has lived for many years with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

The writing is lucid and engaging. As the good theologian that he is, the integration of various fields of study while ever keeping the Scriptures central is a steady note throughout this entire book.

Thoughtful discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter. These are not your typical boiler plate, don’t have to think about it much, kinds of questions.

Highly recommended!

WISE WORDS FROM PRESIDENT BUSH ON 9/11/21

It would be a mistake to idealize the experience of those terrible events. All that many people could initially see was the brute randomness of death. All that many could feel was unearned suffering. All that many could hear was God’s terrible silence. There are many who still struggle with a lonely pain that cuts deep within.

Many of us have tried to make spiritual sense of these events. There is no simple explanation for the mix of providence and human will that sets the direction of our lives. But comfort can come from a different sort of knowledge. After wandering long and lost in the dark, many have found they were actually walking, step by step, toward grace.

(Emphasis mine and sounds like it was inspired by Lincoln’s Second Inaugural!)

MISUNDERSTANDING GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

In a minister’s recent sermon (outside our hometown), he made a common error that I have heard many Christians make. I thought it important enough to write him. To his credit, he responded favorably. Here is what I wrote:

In today’s sermon, you mentioned the importance of looking back rather than forward.  I agree but was concerned about where you described our spiritual anchor should be placed.  You instructed us to look back at times “where God was faithful.” In that regard, you mentioned two things: your wife rebounding from a perilous situation, and your friend receiving a favorable answer with unexpected help.

I certainly believe God answers prayer.  My journals are full of many examples.  I don’t think it wise, however, to tether God’s faithfulness to getting the answers we want.  I know you don’t believe this, and you later said bad things happen, and we die, but it was not clear that God is faithful irrespective of whether the circumstances turn out in our favor.

This is why I try to steer clear of using the word “when” with God’s faithfulness other than describing the completed work of Christ.  Asking about “when God was faithful” at least raises the question of when He might not have been.

God certainly answers prayer in the ways we desire at times, but what about when He doesn’t?  He is still faithful.  Thinking about God’s faithfulness with when He answered a prayer in the way we desired results in at least wondering whether God is faithful when the favorable answer never comes. Again, I know you believe God is faithful irrespective of us getting a favorable answer to prayer, but I don’t think it was clear.  

I’ve heard many times, as I am sure you have, a fellow Christian describe how God favorably answered their prayer with the commentary “Isn’t God good?!” or simply “God is faithful.”  Yes, God is, but not just when He answers one’s prayer favorably.

Yes, we look back, but we look back to the finished work of Christ.  That is where our anchor should be placed.  Nothing or no one can take that from us no matter how bad things get (Hab. 3:17-19).

Your evident desire to honor God made it easy to send this note, so for that, THANK YOU!

Your Brother in Christ,

Dave

 

NOTHING TO SAY

In 2003, my commentary on Ecclesiastes was published.  In it, I included a few lines from Stephen Crane’s poem about the utter indifference of nature to man’s plight:

A man said to the universe:

“Sir, I exist”

“However,” replied the universe,

“The fact has not created in me

a sense of obligation.”

Like nature, secularism is eerily silent and offers no hope:

“The epidemics [during the early Church] swamped the explanatory and comforting capacities of paganism…”

“Indeed, the pagan gods offered no salvation…Galen [distinguished medical researcher, born 129 AD] lacked belief in life after death. The Christians were certain that this life was but prelude. For Galen to have remained in Rome to treat the afflicted would have required bravery far beyond that needed by Christians to do likewise.”

(From Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity)

And then there is Jesus:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus raises and answers the most important question of life.

 

 

MORTALITY

This is the second book I’ve read by the happy atheistic gadfly, Christopher Hitchens.  His writing is beautiful, funny, and makes you think, even, perhaps especially, when you disagree with him.

This was his last book.  He was dying of esophageal cancer.  

Read to find out how an atheist can have better theology than the silly notions of too many Christians.  Read for the enjoyment of engaging great writing.  Read to consider what kind of friend you want to be to your atheist friends.  I hope you have some!