14 June 2008

D.A. Carson's "How Long, O Lord?"

I've just finished reading D.A. Carson's "How Long, O Lord?." This is truly a wonderful book full of choice bits to assist our understanding of suffering in the Christian life. From the outset Carson tells us that it is not "an academic discussion of philosophical problems" (pg. 11) nor is it a "comprehensive guide to the problem of suffering" (pg. 12) rather, it is a book of "preventative medicine" designed to get the Christian thinking about suffering and evil so that a theology of suffering can be developed within the the mind of the believer. We must face the fact that if we live long enough, at some point, we will encounter pain; we need to be prepared. The work covers many aspects of suffering. Let me share a few of my favorite quotes:

In fact we believe that sin properly deserves the wrath of God, then when we experience the sufferings of this world, all of them the consequences of human rebellion, we will be less quick to blame God and a lot quicker to recognize that we have no fundamental right to expect a life of unbroken ease and comfort. From the biblical perspective, it is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed (pg. 44).

But we must enlarge our grasp of what it means to live in a fallen world, so that when such things occur we are not devastated because we have cherished false expectations. The Bible does not tell us that life in this world will be fair. Evil and sin are not Victorian gentlemen; they do not play fair. We ourselves are part of this evil world order, and it is only because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed (pg. 57).

Yet it does help to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if you cannot see it; to know that God is in control and is committed to his people's good, even though it still does not look like that to you. The suffering is no less real, but perhaps is less debilitating when the larger perspective is kept in mind (pg. 66).

...when suffering is mingled with the faith of [Romans 5:1-2], and with delight in being reconciled to God, it then produces perseverance. The staying power of our faith is neither demonstrated nor developed until it is tested by suffering (pg. 71).

It is only in the context of suffering that Christians can learn what it means to be "more than conquerors." This phrase does not come in a context suggestive of a "higher Christian life," a superior brand of Christianity that triumphantly lives above nasty little things like doubt or discouragement or defeat or depression. Rather, it comes in context where Christians are attacked. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Paul asks with rhetorical flourish (pg. 78).

I hope these few quotes give you an interest and a flavor for the work. There is so much more I could share about this work but I'll leave it to the you to seek out the answers for suffering in your own life. I highly recommend this book and would recommend it now, so that you may have time to develop your own theology of suffering.

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