The existence of evil and suffering is the “Achilles heel” of Christianity according to some of its critics. The bible says God is loving and that God is in control, so how can a loving, sovereign God allow suffering? The existence of suffering, it is argued, disproves the God of the bible.
Tripp’s chapter on suffering is one of the most refreshing applied apologetics I’ve read on this thorny subject. He’s particularly good on how grace shapes our response to suffering, never condemning but never condoning, rather seeking to incarnate Christ’s love and the acceptance which enables and empowers real heart change.
Here’s my highlights:
We live in a world where suffering is common. [p142] What do you say to people who have or are suffering?
We struggle with how to relate to people who have suffered. [p143]
The bible states that…
1. God is sovereign, even over our suffering.
2. God is good.
3. God has a purpose for our suffering. Suffering is not a hindrance to redemption but a tool God uses to work his redemptive purposes in us (Romans 8:17, 2 Cor1:3-6, Phil 2:5-9, Jas 1:2-8, 5:10-11, 1 Peter)
4. God has explained the ultimate reasons why we suffer.
– The world is fallen.
– Our flesh is weak and we suffer as a result of bad choices.
– We suffer at the hands of other sinners.
– We suffer because of the Devil.
– We suffer because God has purposed good through our suffering.
5. God’s sovereignty over suffering never:
– means suffering isn’t real (and painful)
– excuses the evildoer
Our responses to suffering must be shaped by compassionate biblical thinking.
Three little nuggets for pastors and preachers:
1. Personal ministry must never be “look at me, I’ve arrived” but rather a humble sharing in our identity in Christ. We are brothers and sisters on a lifelong journey of change.
2. “The person who has benefited most from my ministry is me!” [p146]
This is a great truth and the fruit of living a life of service to others. As we minister to the needs of others, we learn about God and about ourselves, in a way that God transforms us.
3. [even as senior pastor] I am nothing more than a brother. I stand alongside you and point you to the Father. [p147]
Hebrews 2…The core of our brotherhood with Christ and other people is suffering. But what is the purpose of our common suffering? Answer: Sanctification. [p148] We share the same experience of suffering which has the following impact on personal ministry:
makes truth concrete
encourages people to depend on Christ not us (or others)
encourages humility and honesty
redeems my story
makes my life a window on the glory of Christ
it results in worship of Christ
…we should be marked by our compassion. We should be more than theological answer machines. [p152]
Suffering does not mean that God’s plan has failed. Suffering is the plan. [p153]
Telling Christ-centred stories
1. break down the impression that you are different from the person you are helping
2. always complete the story. Move from difficulty, through struggle to Christ
3. be honest about your struggles
4. be discerning and purposeful as you speak
5. make God/Christ the main focus
6. speak with humility and your ongoing need of grace
7. make it clear that the person you are helping needs God/Christ, not you
8. the goal of your story should be worship
Trials reveal wonderful things about God. People discover that there is strength to be found in weakness, love to be found in the midst of rejection, wisdom to be found in the face of foolishness, and that someone is with them even in the most profound loneliness.
Since suffering is a common human experience, identifying with suffering is critical to personal ministry. [p158]