Surprised by Suffering, New from Reformation Trust Publishing
Suffering often seems to catch us by surprise. One day we are healthy, comfortable, and happy. The next we find ourselves ill or injured, struggling, and distraught. The pain that invades our lives may come from our own suffering or that of a loved one. But no matter the source, we didn’t see it coming. All too often, our perplexity prompts us to suspect God of wrongdoing.
In this classic book, republished in a revised and expanded edition, Dr. R. C. Sproul argues that we should not be surprised by suffering; instead, we should expect pain and sorrow in this life. Some are actually called to a “vocation” of suffering, and all of us are called to undergo the ultimate suffering of death. God promises in His Word that difficult times will come upon us, but He also promises that He allows suffering for our good and His glory, and He will never give us more than we can bear with His help.
“It’s a real gift to the church when a seasoned theologian, with insights gained from years of personal experience and biblical study, handles a tough topic like suffering. Here you will find the wisdom of biblical perspective combined with the eternal hope of the gospel leading you to greater rest in your Savior, even in times of trouble. I am thankful for the new edition of this book.”
—Paul David TrippPresident, Paul Tripp MinistriesMinister to Center City, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pa. Professor of pastoral life and care, Redeemer Seminary, Dallas, Texas
“As an oncologist, I have the privilege of caring for people as they ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’ In such times, people of faith find themselves faced with the most troubling questions of human existence, namely those raised by suffering and death. In Surprised by Suffering, R. C. Sproul concisely and sensitively affirms what I believe to be the three critical truths we need to grasp in order to persevere through suffering and death. First, the inevitable and vocational nature of death/suffering; second, God’s sovereign redemptive purposes in suffering; and finally, the certainty of eternal life in perfect fellowship with Him and our fellow believers. I was delighted to learn of this book’s republication, and my reading of the manuscript reaffirmed why we do not grieve as those who have no hope.”
—James W. Lynch Jr., MDProfessor of medicineDivision of Hematology/OncologyUniversity of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Fla.
“In Surprised by Suffering, John Calvin meets Florence Nightingale. This is a rare work, a melding of the theologian and the pastor—a book that looks straightforwardly at suffering and teaches, explains, confronts, and comforts. Buy a dozen, as you will be giving this one away to someone who is hurting in the world around you.”
—Rev. John P. Sartelle Sr., Senior ministerTates Creek Presbyterian Church, Lexington, Ky.
Page 1 - Christians are those who have faith in Christ. We all aspire to possess a faith that is strong and enduring. The reality, however, is that faith is not a constant thing. Our faith wavers between moments of supreme exultation and trying times that push us to the rim of despair. Doubt flashes danger lights at us and threatens our peace. Rare is the saint who has a tranquil spirit in all seasons.
Page 4 - To suffer without Christ is to risk being totally and completely crushed. I’ve often wondered how people cope with the trials of life without the strength found in Him. His presence and comfort are so vital that I’m not surprised when unbelievers accuse Christians of using religion as a crutch. We remember Karl Marx’s charge that “religion is the opiate of the people.” He was referring to opium, a narcotic used for dulling the effects of pain. Others have charged that religion is a bromide used by the weak in times of trouble.
Page 17 - I am astonished that, in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will… .” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.
Away with such distortions of biblical faith! They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic.
Page 23 - Because of Christ, our suffering is not useless. It is part of the total plan of God, who has chosen to redeem the world through the pathway of suffering.
Page 34 - Job cried out to God for answers to his questions. He desperately wanted to know why he was called to endure so much suffering. Finally God answered him out of the whirlwind. But the answer was not what Job had expected. God refused to grant Job a detailed explanation of His reasons for the affliction. God did not disclose His secret counsel to Job.
Ultimately the only answer God gave to Job was a revelation of Himself. It was as if God said to him, “Job, I am your answer.” Job was not asked to trust a plan but a person, a personal God who is sovereign, wise, and good. It was as if God said to Job: “Learn who I am. When you know me, you know enough to handle anything.”
God was asking Job to exercise an implicit faith. An implicit faith is not blind faith. It is a faith with vision, a vision enlightened by a knowledge of the character of God.
If God never revealed anything about Himself to us and required us to trust Him in this darkness, the requirement would be for blind faith. We would be asked to make a blind leap of faith into the awful abyss of darkness.
But God never requires such foolish leaps. He never calls us to jump into the darkness. On the contrary, He calls us to forsake the darkness and enter into the light. It is the light of His countenance. It is the radiant light of His person, which has no shadow of turning. When we are bathed in the refulgent splendor of the glory of His person, trust is not blind.
Pages 42-43 - In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, I noticed that a number of different words were used to describe those events, words such as catastrophe and calamity. But the word I heard perhaps more than any other was tragedy. Usually, however, there was an adjective attached to this word to describe the attack. It was called a senseless tragedy.
If I had the time to go into a technical, comprehensive analysis of these two words in conjunction with each other, I could demonstrate that the phrase “senseless tragedy” is an oxymoron. For something to be defined in the final analysis as being “tragic,” there has to be some standard of good.
The word tragedy presupposes some kind of order of purpose in the world. If things can happen in a way that is senseless, there can be no such thing as a tragedy—or a blessing. Everything is simply a meaningless event.
The idea of a “senseless tragedy” represents a worldview that is completely incompatible with Christian thought, because it assumes that something happens without a purpose or a meaning. But if God is God and if God is a God of providence and if God is sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is senseless in the final analysis.
Pages 49-50 - We have different vocations with respect to the jobs and tasks God gives us in this life. But we all share in the vocation of death. Every one of us is called to die. That vocation is as much a calling from God as is a “call” to the ministry of Christ. Sometimes the call comes suddenly and without warning. Sometimes it comes with advance notification. But it comes to all of us. And it comes from God.
I am aware that there are teachers who tell us that God has nothing to do with death. Death is seen strictly as the fiendish device of the Devil. All pain, suffering, disease, and tragedy are blamed on the Evil One. God is absolved of any responsibility. This view is designed to make sure that God is free of blame for anything that goes wrong in this world. “God always wills healing,” we are told. If that healing does not happen, then the fault lies with Satan—or with us. Death, they say, is not in the plan of God. It represents a victory for Satan over the realm of God.
Pages 88-89 - I think that the most comforting words Jesus ever spoke about heaven are found in John 14:2. Jesus said, “If it were not so, I would have told you.”
The tone of this utterance has a paternal ring to it. Jesus was speaking as a Father speaks to his children. We note that moments earlier Jesus had addressed His disciples as “little children,” saying, “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer” (John 13:33). There comes a time in children’s lives when parents must tell them how things really are. Infants must be weaned away from the realm of fairy tales and myths. The day of sober truth arrives when a child becomes too old to maintain a belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. A transaction takes place that involves the demythologizing of life. The fun and enchantment of childhood must give way to the realities of adulthood. There is a time when childish things must be put away. The apostle Paul declared: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). If a man fails to put away childish things, he faces adulthood severely handicapped. To hang on to childhood myths too long is to be crippled intellectually.
Pages 130-131 - John went on to confess that it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. The mirror is still dark. The future is still cloudy. But a few hints are given that are enough to set our souls on fire with delight. One thing we know for sure; one glimpse of light penetrates the darkness of the mirror—we shall be like Him.
It is ironic that we were made in God’s image. The intent of God’s creation of the human race was that we would mirror and reflect the very character of God. But due to our fallenness, God’s image in us has been besmirched. We became lying images. There is nothing more characteristic of human beings than that we sin. In our sin, we demonstrate precisely what God is not like. There is no shadow of evil in the character of God.
However, when sin is altogether removed from us, then we shall be authentic images of our God. We shall be like Him.
About the Author
Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder, chairman and president of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul currently serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.