Beautiful & Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope
UPDATE: The final edit is done and will be published in September 2020!
We all endure suffering in this life. No matter how blessed and privileged you may be, we will experience hardship and grief. It may be the death of a loved one, sudden illness, the loss of a job, or the struggle with mental health. It is part of living in a world that God created but humanity unmade.
As Christians, we are assured that Jesus has saved us from our sin and so, some profess, we should “boast in our sufferings” (Rom. 5:3). Such a reading of the New Testament has led many Christians to believe that all suffering we experience is sent from God. Yet is all suffering part of God’s purpose for us? Should we really “boast” in the suffering and grief that follows when a child dies from illness? Does God bring about the hurricanes, mudslides, and earthquakes that takes the lives of hundreds of thousands?
In what I hope will be a personal yet scholarly work, I will consider what the Bible has to say about suffering and grace while reflecting upon my own loss and grief. What is revealed is that rather than an image of God managing every event and action in our lives, the biblical account describes the very real world that we all live, a world full of hardship and calamity that often comes unbidden and unmerited. Yet it is also a world into which God lovingly intrudes, to bring comfort, peace, and grace. As importantly, the Bible also provides license to lament, to grieve, and to protest the injustice we experience.
The phrase “beautiful and terrible things” comes from Frederick Buechner and is oft cited. I have used it for years in graduation speeches. The fuller context is worth considering. It is in his collection of daily meditations, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and in the compilation Beyond Words. This is from day 127 and the entry is “Grace.”
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” That is very powerful and I think a fairly good summation of grace and the biblical theology of suffering. So, what do you think, is that a decent title? Of course it has to have a sub-title otherwise the would take away my scholar card.
A few essays on the subject can be found below, but also feel free to peruse they many other essays on suffering that I have posted on this site.
In the spring of 2015 I was invited by the Graduate Christian Fellowship and Chesterton House of Cornell University to lecture on suffering. Below, collected on one page for convenience, are the links to several posts of the lecture. The audio of the lecture can now be found at the bottom of this page as well.
- A Biblical Theology of Suffering – Part 1
- A Biblical Theology of Suffering – Part 2
- A Biblical Theology of Suffering – Part 3
- A Biblical Theology of Suffering – Some Conclusions
During Lent 2017 I offered a class at St. Bartholomew’s, Nashville on the subject. The 5-part audio can be found on their site.
- “Holiday Grieving” When it is that time of year, we miss them all the more.
- “Walking in Grace” How do we move on with our sorrow?
- “Suffering and Grace” a sermon preached at Orchard Hill Church (audio and video)
- God’s “Will” or “Plan”?
- Mardi Gras: Lean into Lent
- Living in Holy Week
- Survive – Living Beyond Adversity
- Reflecting on Suffering (post-Katrina)
- Lenten Discipline: “Endure trials for the sake of discipline” (from Lent, 2008)