Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life (revised and expanded) by R. C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 2010
The author states that his purpose in writing this book is that the reader would not be surprised when suffering comes into their life. He wants us to see that suffering is not uncommon nor random. It is sent by our heavenly Father, who is both sovereign and loving and for our ultimate good. He also wants the reader to understand that suffering is a vocation, a calling from God, which may be a new concept for many readers.
I first read this book when it was published in 1988. This 2010 edition features a new chapter on God’s sovereignty in relation to suffering, as well as new Scripture and subject indexes.
Dr. Sproul says that contrary to what we often hear people say, the promise of God is not that He will never give us more weight than we want to carry. Rather, the promise of God is that He will never put more on us than we can bear. He states that to suffer without Christ is to risk being totally and completely crushed. He has often wondered (and me as well), how people cope with the trials of life without the strength found in Him.
He states that we must accept the fact that God sometimes says “no” when we pray for relief from suffering. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.
A statement that could be surprising, or even shocking, is that for anyone who believes in the God of providence, ultimately there are no tragedies. He writes that those who understand God’s sovereignty have joy even in the midst of suffering for they see that their suffering is not without purpose.
He goes on to tell us that the chief concern of Scripture is how we will die. When Scripture speaks of the “how” of death, the focus is on the spiritual state of the person at the time of their death, and this is reduced to only two options. We either die in faith or we die in our sins. According to Christ, the worst possible thing that can befall us is to die in our sins.
The author states that the Bible teaches three states of human life. There is life as we know it on earth. There is the final state of our future resurrected bodies. And there is what happens to us between the moment of our deaths and the final resurrection. This period is known as the intermediate state. He goes on to describe the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21. He tells us that our divine vocation is not ultimately to suffering, but to a hope that triumphs over suffering. It is the hope of our future inheritance with Christ.
The author tells us that the hope of eternal joy in the presence of Christ, a hope that sustains us in the midst of temporary suffering, is the legacy of Jesus Christ. It is the promise of God to all who put their trust in Him.
This is a practical book about our vocation of suffering and the hope of the believer to spend eternity with God in His Heaven. The book includes a helpful appendix of questions and answers related to the topic.
15 HELPFUL QUOTES:
- Suffering is one of the most significant challenges to any believer’s faith.
- What is difficult to bear without Christ is made far more bearable with Christ. What is a heavy burden to carry alone becomes a far lighter burden to carry with His help.
- It is when we view our suffering as meaningless-without purpose-that we are tempted to despair.
- No one was ever called by God to greater suffering than God’s only begotten Son.
- If I hope in anything or anyone less than the One who has power over suffering and, ultimately, death, I am doomed to final disappointment. Suffering will drive me to hopelessness.
- We say that we believe that God is sovereign, but when we wrestle with events in our lives that are troublesome, bad things that happen to us, tragedies that befall us, we begin to question either the sovereignty of God or the goodness of God.
- The day of death is the greatest day that a Christian can ever experience in this world because that is the day he goes home, the day he walks across the threshold, the day he enters the Father’s house. That is the day of ultimate triumph for the Christian in this world, and yet it is a day we fear and a day that we postpone as long as we possibly can because we don’t really believe that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth.
- The bottom-line assumption for anyone who believes in the God of providence is that ultimately there are no tragedies. God has promised that all things that happen-all pain, all suffering, all tragedies-are but for a moment, and that He works in and through these events for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
- Those who understand God’s sovereignty have joy even in the midst of suffering, a joy reflected on their very faces, for they see that their suffering is not without purpose.
- When God issues a call to us, it is always a holy call. The vocation of dying is a sacred vocation. To understand that is one of the most important lessons a Christian can ever learn. When the summons comes, we can respond in many ways. We can become angry, bitter, or terrified. But if we see it as a call from God and not a threat from Satan, we are far more prepared to cope with its difficulties.
- The goal of the vocation of death is heaven itself. But there is no route to heaven except through this valley.
- If we love people, we will warn them of the consequences of dying in their sins.
- The great lie is the one that declares there is no last judgment. Yet if Jesus of Nazareth taught anything, He emphatically taught that there would be a last judgment.
- Paul spoke of death as gain. We tend to think of death as loss. To be sure, the death of a loved one involves a loss for those who are left behind. But for the one who passes from this world to heaven, it is a gain.
- Our divine vocation is not ultimately to suffering, but to a hope that triumphs over suffering. It is the hope of our future inheritance with Christ.