Jonathan and I were in Texas with my family at the time, as my dad was battling cancer and we weren't sure how much longer he would be with us. As it turns out, he died almost exactly one month later. To say that last spring was rough is a complete understatement.
When I saw the book Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose and Provision in Suffering was to be released by Crossway Books, I knew it was a book I wanted to spend a little time with, as we approached these significant anniversaries.
Be Still, My Soul was edited by Nancy Gutherie - a lady who knows a little about suffering herself. She has lost two children of her own and has had to deal with her own grief. She chose articles and sermons, scriptures and quotes which speak to suffering and makes every attempt to comfort her reader with one solemn truth: God knows. God cares. God is sovereign. At one hundred and seventy pages, this book is a quick read, but a hard one. I would say that it is a good book to read for two particular groups of people:
1. It is good for people who have walked in the valley of the shadow of death.
2. It is good for people who have not walked in death's shadow, but who need to learn how to comfort those who are.
Note: I very specifically stated that those who have not walked with death need to learn how to comfort those who have.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:12See, it's not an either/or kind of thing - it's a both/and. Knowing what to say to someone who is hurting is a difficult thing to be sure. But just because something is difficult, doesn't mean that we're supposed to shy away from it. We really have no excuse.
Be Still, My Soul is divided up into three sections:
1. God's Perspective on Suffering;
2. God's Purpose in Suffering; and
3. God's Provision in Suffering.
It contains writings by the following people: Philip Yancey, R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Kuyper, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, St. Augustine, J.I. Packer, John Piper and many other well-known Christians. It is an amazing collection of works which, combined, assure the reader that nothing happens by mistake or is outside of God's control. It comforts the reader, reminding them that God will supply all of their needs and is, in fact, working for their benefit. We are finite beings. We see only glimpses and moments in time. God is infinite. His gaze spans history and we can trust that His working plan is better than our own.
One of the most amazing things said to Jonathan and I following the death of our family members was that, "This was a tragedy. God doesn't mean for things like this to happen."
To rephrase that, "words of comfort" were used to say that God was all about making us happy and that Satan orchestrated these deaths and worked against us and our family by taking our loved ones away.
To this I must say that such a statement is untrue! I know that they meant well but the statements were wrong. Landon died accidentally? God messed up? It was all a cosmic accident? The God I believe in is not sovereign enough to work His will in the world? That He was blinded by a momentary flash of light and failed to notice what was happening down below?! No. I don't think so.
What happened last spring was no accident, neither was God inflicting His wrath on any of us. He was working for our good and for His glory, as painful as that is to realize and accept.
If you read the story of Job in scripture we can see that God brought the matter of Job up to Satan. God allowed Job to suffer difficulties. Why? We can ask that question but it doesn't change the answer: God is good. All of the time. He is never evil. While Satan certainly meant what befell Job to be evil, God did not.
" . . . you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . . " Genesis 50:20To question God? I don't think that is in my best interest.
"One day God will close the curtain on evil and, with it, all suffering and sorrow. Until then, I'll keep remembering something else Steve Estes once told me as he rested his hand on my wheelchair: "God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves." I can smile knowing that God is accomplishing what He loves in my life - Christ in me, the hope of glory. And this is no Plan B for my life, but His good and loving Plan A." (Tada, "God's Plan A.")
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
"I am especially concerned when events are described as a "senseless tragedy." If we look closely at the phrase, it becomes obvious that "senseless tragedy" is an oxymoron. It is a self-contradictory statement, a phrase that makes no sense. For something to be defined as "tragic" there must first be some standard of good for it to be tragic over against. But if things happen in a way that is "senseless," there cannot be anything that is either a tragedy or a blessing. Each event would simply be meaningless.
The word "tragedy" presupposes some kind of order or purpose in the world. If the world has purpose and order, then all that occurs in it is meaningful in some respect. The idea of a "senseless tragedy" represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought. It assumes that something happens without purpose or meaning. If God is God and if he is a God of providence, if he is truly sovereign, then nothing ever happens is ultimately senseless. Things may appear to be without purpose or meaning. Their ultimate purpose might elude us for the present. Yet if we fail to see purpose in what happens, we must remember that our view of things is limited by our earthly perspective." (R.C. Sproul, "Senseless Tragedy?")
The point of suffering is to strip us of our sins, to draw us closer to Christ, to remind us that life is precious and brief and to focus on eyes on God and on Heaven. Heaven then will be the place without question marks, tears or pain. For now we kind of have to walk in faith a bit. But to walk away from faith in God's ability to be sovereign is not in the least bit attractive and so I must reject the statements that any pain I suffer is a cosmic accident. He is good. He is gracious. He is kind. He is merciful to us on our tearful and darkest nights. He is in the pain. He is around the pain. He carries us through the pain.
There is not one emotion that I have felt that Jesus didn't experience in human flesh. He knows my family's pain. He knows our sorrows. But His vision extends further than mine/ ours and He sees what we cannot see - a perfect future. We walk by faith. We say, "It is well with my soul" because we believe in His sovereignty and in His perfect plan. Though we cannot always understand, He also doesn't expect us to. Faith. Hope. Love. All of these things - HE IS.
Could I recommend this book? In less than a heartbeat. Its truths are sure. Bad things happens. God knows and allowed them to happen. But He also stands ready to comfort us and will even listen to our questions. But just because we have questions, doesn't mean He is required to answer them all. Not here. Not now. No matter how hard we might feel like stomping our feet or how loud we might feel like screaming.
The good news is, He doesn't expect us to recover in a day. He knows we are incapable of doing so. Therefore He promises never to leave us or forsake us - not in one day, or three hundred and sixty-five days, or a thousand! He is still here with us. And He is still good.