I want to tie this to something I read in D. A. Carson’s book How Long, O Lord? which I had read years before any of this.
“One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christian is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If by that point our beliefs—not well thought out but deeply ingrained—are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed himself in the Bible and supremely in Jesus, then the pain from the personal tragedy may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundation of our faith.” (11)Now nothing truly prepares you for the death of a child but I have to say that my readings of books like Carson’s, Guthrie’s and others certainly did something to help me put into context the pain of losing my Joshua (who died this past September). I believe God used what I had read to help me through those first days and even today they offer solace. I don’t say any of this to commend my faith but rather God’s sustaining grace and the value in thinking through these issues long before you may have to personally endure them.
My Crossway rep was in today and he gave me a copy of Nancy Guthrie’s newest book Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering. In this book Nancy has assembled 25 various excerpts from classic and contemporary authors on the problem of pain. Nancy picked an excerpt from Carson’s book. Here’s part of it:
“Not long ago in my church, a woman I’ll call Mary experienced a recurrence of cancer. Within a few months it had spread throughout her body, and despite treatments, she was very ill. The people in our church gathered for prayer. And although this is not a church from a charismatic tradition, the prayers throughout the day became more and more enthusiastic.
“Lord, you’ve said you will answer if two or three are in agreement. We have 287 in agreement, and we want you to heal her!” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We want you to show that you are still the Great Physician!” “Lord, will you not have mercy on her husband and her children?”
“Finally it was my wife’s turn to pray (she who had almost lost her life to cancer twice) and she prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have any easy time, but ask that she be so full of grace, people will see Christ in her.”
“Well, you could have cut the air with a knife. No longer were there 287 people agreeing in prayer. My wife’s prayer seemed to create a break in the chain. She was letting down her side. We found out afterward that some of Mary’s relatives rather wished my wife would go to heaven first so she would know whereof she was praying! . . . Well-intentioned, but poorly informed brothers and sisters who try to deflect people from thinking about death, or who hold out the constant hope of healing, keep them so occupied with matters in this world that they have neither the time nor the energy to think about the next world. They succeed only in robbing their loved ones of the enormous comfort of the gospel as the step into eternity. Whatever the church does, it should prepare its members to face death and meet God. You cannot live faithfully in this life unless you are ready for the next. You can’t preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity.” (113-115)This book is full of the wisdom of veteran Christians who have walked with God and are by no means strangers to pain and suffering. Other contributors include Philip Yancey, Joni Eareckson Tada, Os Guiness, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, Jerry Bridges and many more. This is a book I know I’m going to love and will be giving away to friends. Thank you, thank you Nancy!
Be Still, My Soul is from Crossway with 176 pages and sells for $12.99.