D.A. Carson begins his book How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil with these words:
One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians 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 foundations of our faith" (p. 11).
In other words, there is tremendous value in thinking about suffering and evil even when our lives aren't directly touched at the current moment by these things. But let's be honest: For most of us, thinking about suffering and evil isn't an abstract thought-exercise. Thinking about suffering and evil brings real feelings to the surface, it revisits personal tragedy we've experienced or are experiencing, and it brings sin and the brokenness of our world to the center of our attention.
For all of these reasons, then, reflecting on a distinctly Christian perspective of suffering and evil is vital. Whether suffering "feels" distant or near, there's value in both embedding ourselves in Christian truth and surrounding ourselves with voices who can relate and speak to our struggles. As D.A . Carson goes on to say, "The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough, and we will suffer" (p. 16).
Certainly, the Bible should always take pride of place in providing perspective and coming alongside of us as we experience pain and suffering. Books like Job and Lamentations can be precious here. And learning that Jesus relates to our pain and suffering - that He himself experienced injustice, loss, tragedy, grief, and more - teaches us that Jesus is our ally and a shoulder to lean on as we endure and address our own suffering.
Other Christian books can also play a role here - at articulating biblical truth in a helpful way, and sharing personal experiences of suffering, grief, and pain. With this last comment in mind, then, below are six books that I suggest to those who are looking for resources to help them reflect on a distinctly Christian perspective on and approach to the reality of pain, suffering, and evil.
(One more quick, but really important, comment: Working through issues like suffering, pain, and evil should never be done with just you and a book - as helpful as books can be. Remember to also surround yourself with Christian community and consider the value of pastoral and/or professional counseling if appropriate.)
All right, on with the book recommendations:
There are a number of other worthwhile books I could have included in this list, but didn't (I wanted to keep recommendations to six, so this post is manageable).
So now I'll leave it up to you: What other books have you read and found helpful, that have helped you reflect on a distinctly Christian perspective on and approach to the reality of pain, suffering, and evil?
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