I recently finished re-reading What's Good about Suffering by John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas. This is one of the best books that I have read on pain and suffering. Many of the books on pain and suffering deal with the issue of the problem of evil and belief in God. How can the two be reconcile. This book is not that kind of book. The title describes what kind of book it is. The title, What's Good about Feeling Bad seems to imply that there are some positive things that come from feeling bad. God might be wanting to teach us something. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers in our job, but yells in our pain. In other words, in pain he gets our attention. The subtitle adds clarification to this purpose: Finding Purpose and a Path through your Pain. This seems to point to the idea that the authors are here to help us to work through our pain.
John C. Thomas has been a professional counselor for over twenty-five years, serving in private practice and is the director of the counseling program at Liberty university. Gary Habermas is Research professor and chair in the philosophy and theology department at Liberty university. Both authors have experienced suffering in their life and share these experiences with the reader. In addition, they share the experience of those they have counseled for over twenty-five years.
The purpose of the book is to show "why God allows his children to suffer" (xiv). They show that there are all types of suffering and "God's responses and the type of relief that comes our way can also be quite varied" (xiv). Sometimes, God might deliver us from our suffering. Other times "He might hold our hands and walk with us through the hurtful situation" (xiv-xv). Though we might prefer the pain or the situation to go away, sometimes "the only way to gain blessing, insight or growth is to face adversity" (xv). We must trust God in these difficult circumstances.
What's Good about Pain is divided into three parts. In the first part they cover "the pain of suffering" and provide a theology of pain of suffering. They describe six truths about suffering. It is universal, painful, personal, unnerving, mysterious, and biblical. Chapter two was quite insightful. It described three beliefs that influence our response to suffering: "I deserve ease and comfort in life; I deserve a predictable world; I deserve a fair world." A big part of suffering is how we respond to it. Our beliefs have a major influence on this response. I found this chapter quite helpful. The author notes, "As Americans, we are told we have been endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which is the pursuit of happiness. Homes, jobs, money, family, friends, sex, health, and social status are supposed to provide us with the fulfillment and happiness. When any of these things are threatened or taken away, we typically react with fear and discomfort" (18). It seems we become quite use to comfort and expect it as a right. God, however, might have other purposes in mind.
In section two the authors describe 15 purposes in suffering:
- Purified Faith
- Humble Heart
- Test our Faithfulness
- Personalized Faith
- Christian Maturity
- Minister through us
The last section provides "A Pathway through our suffering." Chapter 19 deals with some myths of suffering: "Spiritual people don't experience suffering; reading the Bible solves every problem; You can handle it alone; God owes us; pain and suffering are of no value; the God of Love would not allow us to suffer. Chapter twenty provides strategies for dealing with our suffering. One is to express your feelings about your sufferings to God. Be honest with God about your suffering. Another strategy is to try to determine the cause of our suffering if possible. The cause could influence how we should respond to it. A third strategy is to "recognize the ways God works to accomplish his plan." In addition the authors list five ways we can trust God: grow in your knowledge of God; "accept what happens as God's way of helping you grow; focus on your response to the problem rather than the cause of it; focus on God's presence; and make a willful decision to trust the Lord."
I found What 's Good about pain as an excellent support during the times of suffering. It contains much practical advice on how to deal with our pain. In addition, it provides much biblical support on dealing with pain and suffering. It also helps us correct misbeliefs about suffering and to create true beliefs about pain and suffering.