Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
On October 1, my next book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free will be released. This is by far the most important book I’ve written to date.
But it begs the question, what need is there for another book on suffering?
Certainly we have enough works on the topic already, books that attempt to explain why God allows suffering, presumably in a way that ultimately lets God off the hook. And while much smarter people than me have constructed elaborate systems in this pursuit—the fancy word for such a theory is theodicy—they are all by definition exercises in speculation. To know the Why would be to grasp the mind of God, which is something none of us can do.
We also have enough books tackling the How. That is, how suffering can and will transform our lives, how we can leverage pain and tragedy to make us better people. Results, results, results! Underneath this hopeful veneer, such philosophies tend to fall flat when things don’t go according to plan, when we find out that our power, especially in the face of suffering, is a lot more limited than we thought. Pain would not be pain if we could harness it for personal gain, though the tendency to attempt to do so is a universal one.
This is not one of those books either.
This is not to say that How and Why are not honest questions. Of course they are! And Glorious Ruin explores a few common attempts to answer them. But How and Why can also be a prison. They can leave us cold and confused, just as they left Job cold and confused when his friends tried to formulate their own tedious answers. Information is seldom enough to heal a wounded heart.
The question I emphasize instead—and the only one that will ultimately point us toward the truth—is the Who amid our suffering. Which is the only question that God has seen fit to answer, concretely, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Answers to prayers for help are a problem only when you look on God as a divine vending machine programmed to dispense Cokes, Camels, lost keys, and freedom from gall-bladder trouble to anyone who has the right coins. It isn’t that [God] has a principle about not starting cars—or about starting them. What he has a principle about is you…. He loves you; his chief concern is to be himself for you. (Robert Capon)
Do you see it? We may not ever fully understand why God allows the suffering that devastates our lives. We may not ever find the right answers to how we’ll dig ourselves out. There may not be any silver lining, especially not in the ways we would like. But we don’t need answers as much as we need God’s presence in and through the suffering itself.
For the life of the believer, one thing is beautifully and abundantly true: God’s chief concern in your suffering is to be with you and be Himself for you. In other words, our ruin may not ultimately spell our undoing. It may in fact spell the beginning of faith. And in the end, that is enough. Gloriously so.
(I’ll be traveling extensively this fall to speak about the book. Check here to see how you and your church can participate.)