3 books to read when you want to make sense of suffering
Nathanael Jerome Tan, Media Ministry of Cru Singapore // February 24, 2020, 12:08 pm
Bombarded with news about COVID-19, questions about worry and safety fill the minds of many: How should Christians respond to such fears? And how should we view events like panic-buying at the supermarkets?
Thankfully, there are resources out there that can help us see things from a biblical perspective. Here are some books (and a film) I’ve found useful for times of uncertainty.
1. WALKING WITH GOD THROUGH PAIN & SUFFERING, Timothy Keller
American apologist and pastor Timothy Keller tackles the difficult and perennial question of why there is pain and suffering in the world through stories from the Bible.
These stories helped me to see that suffering in my life ought to drive me to God instead of away from Him. After all, Jesus is the only one who can fully understand my pain, having experienced suffering in its ultimate extent on the Cross.
I also learnt through this book that prayer is an essential part of going through pain and sorrow.
Challenged, I began to see how God increasingly answered my prayers as they grew in alignment to His will. My faith grew as I depended on God and stood on His promises.
May God use this book to open your eyes to His goodness especially in the deepest and darkest times. And may He grow your faith and hope in Christ through the challenges life brings.
2. SUFFERING IS NEVER FOR NOTHING, Elisabeth Elliot
Many of us are no stranger to Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of American missionary martyr Jim Elliot. In this never-before-published book, Elliot explores the link between suffering and love – how God’s love for His people was evidenced in sending Jesus to suffer and die on the Cross for our sins.
Suffering is Never for Nothing helped to transform my understanding of how I perceive suffering, through the lens of Job.
When God finally responded to Job crying out in despair, God did not give him an explicit to answer to all the suffering that he was experiencing. God simply replied Job with a question.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.” (Job 38:4)
Through all the ups and downs in my life, the story of Job has always pointed me back to trusting in the infinite wisdom of God. If I trust in God’s promise that He loves me unconditionally as His child, how could I doubt God’s character?
Here’s one quote from the book: “Whatever is in the cup that God is offering to me, whether it be pain and sorrow and suffering and grief along with the many more joys, I’m willing to take it because I trust Him.”
3. THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, C.S. Lewis
I’m very familiar with pain, having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis from the age of 28. The reality of being a walking weather forecast is something I’ve had to come to terms with.
However, this book helped me understand that I wouldn’t be able to completely understand the love of Christ without my pain. My relationship with God would have been very different without rheumatoid arthritis!
This classic by C.S. Lewis looks at pain, and argues that it is evidence of God’s love for us. The book has so many quotes you could print and stick on a wall, but I’ll just share two of my favourites.
“If God is wiser than we, His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.”
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
4. A TALE OF TWO ESTHERS
If you’re not a fan of reading – don’t fret. This film depicts the same themes through the stories of two remarkable Singaporean women, both named Esther.
Esther Tan embarked on a four-year journey at age 23 to reach the top of Mount Everest. But she faced problems along the way like her inexperience, small physique and even a congenital heart condition, which would require surgery in the midst of her training.
Another 23-year-old also called Esther became Singapore’s first carrier of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and a super-spreader, transmitting the disease to over 100 people here after returning from a holiday in Hong Kong.
Among those infected by Esther Mok were her parents, uncle and pastor, all of whom died from the disease. Mok survived, but had to find a way through guilt and grief.
Back in 2003, there were a total of 238 reported SARS cases in Singapore with 33 deaths.
Watching this heart-wrenching documentary, John 16:33b came to mind: “in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world”.
We must not stop trusting God in times of trials and tribulations. Instead, we must learn to lean on God for help and guidance. In Him, we have comfort knowing that our peace does not depend on our present situation.
Thank God that He is an unchanging God, whose presence fuels our steadfast faith. In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
So with all the help we can get through friends, films and books like these, let’s trust God and pursue Him even when times are tough.
Nathanael Jerome Tan works for Cru Singapore’s Media Ministry, which is running a promotion on selected books from their From Trials To Triumph collection. This ends on March 8, 2020. For more details, you can check out their website.