Just about anything wise or discerning that I may have to say about suffering graciously comes from one of two places: God’s word and godly authors. I can claim plenty of credit for the foolish or whiny things I say that come straight out of my sinful heart. But I can’t claim credit for the cumulative effect that God has wrought out of some of the things I’ve read to help my soul cope with the difficulties of these past few years. So if you’ve benefited at all – by the grace of God – from what I sometimes write here, you’ll benefit even more from the following resources:
How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson
This is an excellent book on the theology of suffering. If you are not in the midst of a trial, this books lays an excellent doctrinal foundation for any hard times you may encounter down the road; it will also help you to helpfully counsel any friends who are suffering. If you are in the midst of affliction, the rich truths of this book will bring comfort and clarity even when there are many unanswerable questions about your circumstances.
“I cannot give you all the answers to your ‘Why?’ But you may draw courage from the fact that the one who loves you so much he died for you asked the same question: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”
All Things for Good by Thomas Watson
This little Puritan paperback is a rich mine for the sufferer. While scrutinizing Romans 8:28, Thomas Watson packs every paragraph full of vivid metaphors that impart practical understanding God’s promise to work all things for good to those that love him. When you just can’t see any good arising out of your circumstances, read this book to find out all the possible ways that God might be at work.
“All things work together for good. This expression ‘work together’ refers to medicine. Several poisonous ingredients put together, being tempered by the skill of the apothecary, make a sovereign medicine, and work together for the good of the patient. So all God’s providences, being divinely tempered and sanctified, work together for the best to the saints.”
Beside Still Waters by C.H. Spurgeon
This book collects various writings and sermon excerpts on the topic of suffering from the famed 19th century London preacher. Spurgeon’s congregation faced poverty, illness, and death as features of daily life, and he himself struggled with depression. The short, devotional-style entries are arranged by Scripture reference, but there is also an index arranged by topic. If you want simple, brief doses of help for the afflicted soul, pick up this book and read a little.
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, eds. John Piper & Justin Taylor
This book collects articles based on messages given at a Desiring God conference of the same title. I’ve not read them all, but I’m slowly working my way through the different chapters. The chapter by David Powlison is probably the single best examination of the topic of suffering that I have read. He addresses the comprehensive experience of trial and brings a God-ward focus to bear in a way that is not at all trite. He plumbs the depths of despair and soars to the heights of praise. (If you have a friend who is in a long season of difficulty and you feel like you don’t know what to do or say, read this chapter!) It’s almost impossible to choose just one quote from this chapter, but here’s a small taste:
“The problem is not that we feel troubled by trouble and pained by pain. Something hurtful should hurt. The problem is that God slides away into irrelevance when we obsess over suffering or compulsively avoid it. God inhabits a vague afterthought – weightless and distant in comparison to something immediately pressing. Or, if God-words fill our minds and pour forth from our lips, it’s easy to make the “god” we cry out to someone who will magically make everything better if we can only catch his ear.
The real God is up to better things. He says and does weighty and immediate things that engage what you are facing. He pursues purposes that are better than you imagine. He refuses to become your lucky charm who makes all the bad things disappear from your world.”
There are a few other resources that deserve mention. The chapter “Responding Humbly to Trials” in C.J. Mahaney’s Humility is one I have re-visited a few times. And Pete Greasley’s seminar message, “When Crisis Comes,” impacted me and stuck with me when I heard it at a conference. (And hey! It looks like the MP3 and outline are being offered for free! Go forth and download!)
I know there are a lot of excellent resources about suffering; these few have shaped how I think and feel about the suffering I have faced, making it a little less incomprehensible and therefore a little easier to endure. Take up and read, and to God be all the glory.
Edited to add: I just saw this review on Challies.com; looks intriguing enough to be the next book on suffering that I read…