Beautiful & Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope
Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020). Available in print or ebook from the publisher or from another retailer: Amazon • Barnes and Noble • Christianbook.com • Cokesbury • The Thoughtful Christian. Audiobook available from Audible • ChristianAudio.
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 is a personal yet scholarly work, I 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.”
“The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”
“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.
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Advanced Praise for Beautiful and Terrible Things
“Brady’s witness is to the costly process of grief and the prospect of faith that will not alleviate but will carry us through that cost. This book will serve well those who face such anguished loss. Beyond that, the book is enriched with study questions for those who know that, sooner or later, we will all lose our loved ones and will be summoned to such grief.”
—Walter Brueggemann author of Sabbath as Resistance
“When Christian Brady and his wife experienced the unthinkable, the sudden and unexpected death of their young son, waves of grief surged from this tragedy. Because Brady is both a parent and also a biblical scholar, the grief that welled up from his heart was accompanied by questions in his mind—questions of the nature of God, the meaning of suffering, and the promises of Scripture. This tender and powerful volume stands in honest solidarity with all who have suffered loss and in gentle and deep conversation with all whose loss has provoked questions of faith.”
—Thomas G. Long, author of What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith
“When was the last time you had a man of the cloth tell you that to be Christian is to be human? That suffering is not the sign of sin, but of grace? “Beautiful and Terrible Things” is that rare letter from such a man, a book that is one part memoir, one part devotional, and all parts honest. Among smart but accessible readings of the books of wisdom, Christian M. M. Brady weaves his own wrenching experience as the bereaved father of an only son taken too soon. In so doing, he reveals a path of faith I recognize: standing, trembling with gratitude, before the Whirlwind of God.”
— Rebecca Gayle Howell, Poetry Editor for Oxford American and the author of two critically-acclaimed collections, American Purgatory and Render/An Apocalypse.
“Christian Brady has a written a book that asks many questions—questions both you and I have asked, such as: ‘How it is that the God who created this world could allow so much suffering, not just of those who are gone, but for those of us who remain?’ There are many who need and must process these questions and this book may help. It’s a study of life, suffering and death in this world, a study of uncertainty, tragedy and personal loss, but it’s also a proclamation of Hope, which at it’s conclusion brings needful reassurance!”
— Phil Keaggy, award winning guitarist, musician, and performer.
“Out of the inexpressibly painful loss of his son Mack, Christian Brady leads us along the seemingly parallel paths of suffering and grace, and shares with us, from his own deep sorrow and profound Christian faith, that the two paths are really one, and despair and hope are fellow travelers.” — C. Hassell Bullock, Franklin S. Dyrness Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College (IL)
“There have been a lot of books written on the problem of theodicy. It’s a question that has haunted people of faith for millennia: how can God, who loves, allow horrors like the deaths of our children when their lives have scarcely begun? This book is the best treatment of the topic, theologically, yet written.
I don’t wish to simply recommend this book. Instead, I urge your reading of it. And your sharing of it with those in your world, your circle of friends, your family, who have been or are suffering loss. And keep a box of kleenex close at hand while you read it yourself. You’ll need it. I did.”
— Jim West, “Zwinglius Redivivus”
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)