Suffering: A Book Review

16 June 2020

In our current time, where self-help books abound, a book about suffering can be a breath of fresh air. “Really?” you might ask. “How can a book about suffering be refreshing?” At some point in life, you will go through some sort of suffering. It is in these moments that self-help mantras will fall flat. Why is this? Self-help philosophy is grounded on your ability to get your self out of your suffering. It totally disregards the fact that what is out of your control is under the control of a sovereign King and Savior. In his book, Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Paul Tripp brings the gospel to bear on the experience of suffering in this fallen world.

Here are three reasons why I would recommend this book:

1.) Personal Experience 

Tripp does not write from an uninformed view of suffering. He begins the book by giving the reader an insight into his own suffering experience, which then is sprinkled throughout the rest of the book. Tripp not only draws from his own personal struggles with suffering, but from others who he has encountered through his longtime experience as a pastor and counselor. It is with these close experiences of suffering that allows him to speak vulnerably, honestly, and sympathetically about the reality of suffering in a fallen world. 

2.) Good Questions

I was struck by the amount of questions that Tripp poses throughout this book. Whether it be in the form of formal questions at the end of each chapter, questions from a point he is trying to make at the end of a paragraph, or false questions that arise during suffering that you or the devil might ask, he shows that our questions help expose our hearts – our fears, our anger, our presuppositions, etc.

For example, Tripp gives an anecdote of one man who had a bright future ahead of him when suddenly he had to quit his promising job due to chronic fatigue. He began to withdraw and was left to himself, talking to himself in the midst of the darkness that surrounded him. The conversations he was having with himself turned dark and theological. Rather than letting the Bible speak into his darkness, the man let his circumstance redefine his view of God. Some of the questions sounded like “How could a loving God let this happen? Where were all God’s promises? Why were other people being blessed but I was being cursed? Why didn’t God use his power to help me? Why was God punishing me? Why had God turned his back on me (pg. 89-90)?

When suffering comes your theology plays a major role. Tripp comments, “as I talked to my depressed and discouraged friend, he described a God I didn’t know, a God who was vastly different in character, presence, and power from the God the Bible reveals…But it is important to observe that my friend was seemingly unaware and unafraid of the radical shift that suffering had initiated in his theology (p.93).” Tripp then pivots to asking the reader questions about their theology amidst suffering: “What has my suffering done to my theology? What has it done to the way I view God and his promises, and his power? Do I still believe that God is the definition of what is loving, good, wise, and true (p. 93)?” Good hard questions such as these help poke at blindspots that can develop due to the dark clouds that overshadow us in our suffering.  The result is enlightenment leading to repentance and healing.

3.) Awareness

Suffering never warns us when it’s going to hit. Suffering is not like a vacation where you have weeks or months to plan or prepare for what you are about to experience. It hits suddenly. The suddenness of suffering can be confusing and hard to navigate once you are in it. Tripp invests himself in this book with other sufferers by examining both the “traps of temptations that greet every sufferer, and comforts of grace available for everyone who groans in pain of loss, sickness, betrayal, and disappointment; and because the traps you fall into or the comforts you embrace will determine how you suffer” (p. 55). Tripp helps provide the awareness we need, in the dangers that blind and the comforts that God provides.

Due to living in a fallen world, we will all experience suffering at some point and at some level during our time here on earth. This book will serve all Christians well in viewing ourselves, others, the world, and God rightly in the midst of suffering. 

Editors Note: Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense can be bought here.

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