How do we respond to suffering?

The link can be found here.

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What do I think of Doug Groothius's book published by IVP? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a sad book. It is a tragic book to read. It is a book that you should read, but it is not a book you will read because you enjoy reading it. If you do enjoy reading it, I think there is something wrong with you. There are some cute moments throughout you might smile at, but the tone throughout is very somber and depressing.

As it should be.

Groothius's book is an honest look at what happens when a Christian philosopher who is an apologist has a wife who has been a companion in every way throughout his marriage start to go through dementia. What happens when she can't read anymore or use a phone anymore or do basic things? What happens when you know the person is going to get worse and worse until they eventually die from the disease? What happens when you go from being a husband to being a caregiver?

The book is entirely honest, which is what makes it so hard. Groothius says some of the things that many of us going through suffering think but hesitate to say. Consider his talk about Misotheism. This is the idea that one knows that God exists and holds many orthodox beliefs about Him, but hates Him.*

There are many times one can meet atheists who say people are Christians because it makes us feel really good about ourselves. I do not relate to those comments, but I think here we have the opposite. One wonders if at times Groothius might wish he didn't have the apologetics and philosophical knowledge that he has. Sure, God provides a great hope in times of suffering, but sometimes He does seem cruel.

A reader would understandably think of the idea of C.S. Lewis. Lewis wrote about how his great fear in suffering wasn't that God didn't exist. It was that God did exist and that this is what He is really like. The mask has come off. God has claimed to be a good God of love, but in the end, look at the suffering He allows His servants to go through!

Groothius writes from that same perspective. He finds great comfort in the laments in the Bible and especially in the book of Ecclesiastes. He looks back longingly to happier times with his wife, Becky, and thinks that in the resurrection, things will be different, but for now, they are bad and they are not going to get better.

Groothius won't go into a prolonged argument as to why God allows evil. That doesn't matter at this point and when one is suffering, it is actually rather hollow. Instead, Groothius will just describe the suffering and point to passages of Scripture that give him hope. There is some light apologetics mixed in from time to time, but most of what we see is a man baring his soul to the world.

Some things I understood from my own experience. Groothius talks about visiting his wife in a psychiatric hospital and wanting to kill a man who was talking too loudly on the phone. I know when my own wife has been hurt by others that I have had that kind of rage built up inside of me. I also have been there when my wife has had to be hospitalized and staying by her side. When he describes Becky being in a place where people feel like inmates and the prisoners are trying to escape, I understand it.

Groothius tells about at times living in fear worried about what Becky would do. Normally in the past, her approach would have brought joy, but now it brings pain. What is it that is wrong? He admits that at times he gets frustrated and this must be a pain to live with as well. Perhaps at times he wants to get angry with her, but what would that do? She cannot help the way she is definitely. Then, one deals with the guilt of that afterward.

It's hard to imagine that in all of this, he still goes out there wanting to defend Christianity. This is what it means to truly trust in Christ. It means that even when everything seems against you, you are still obeying. Lewis talked about a Christian who looked at the world that seemed to have no God there, who looks up to Heaven in response and asks why God is silent, and yet obeys anyway. These are the most dangerous Christians in the world to those on the side of evil because their Christianity is not controlled by momentary circumstances.

Ultimately, that is also the good news. Becky's condition could last a few years, but in light of eternity, it is a momentary circumstance. It does not seem like it when one is in it, but that is what it really is.*

At the same time, that doesn't mean that we who are on the outside need to give stale sayings of peace that are meant to soothe. They don't. Too often I think it's like we think we're on some TV show and we'll say just the right magic words and the person will suddenly have an epiphany and feel better about everything. Real life isn't like that. Real life isn't scripted and the people we encounter are not actors acting in pain. They are real people in real pain.*

It can be easier for those of us on the outside to diminish pain. For instance, people who know me very well know that I am extremely hydrophobic. It is a wonder I was able to get baptized by full immersion since I am terrified of going underwater. My own wife can get frustrated with me in the swimming pool at times, yet she knows that this is a real pain. This is an honest phobia. The last thing you need to tell me is that there's really nothing to be afraid of. Even if you think it's true and even if it is true, it doesn't change the pain.*

What is better is to come alongside of those who are suffering. Suffer with them if possible. Don't just give words. Words can be good, but sometimes, they're cheap. Of course, if all you can do is give a phone call or something, at least do that, but if possible, come over. Think of what you could do. Help clean the house. Bring over a meal. Get a gift card for them. Sometimes, just listening itself is enough.

We should all be praying for Dr. Groothius in his time. His book is a poignant look at suffering. It is not an enjoyable book. It is a sad book. It is also a needed book. We need to read this to understand suffering from the inside. It's easy to talk about the problem of evil when you're an academic in a classroom and life is going well. It's harder when you know the arguments, but you feel something else entirely as you're going through the problem right there.

Get this book and read it and then be prepared to enter into suffering. Do what you can to help your fellow man out. Remember that people you meet are all either going through suffering, have come out of it, or are about to go into it. In each life a little rain must fall, but we can make the most of it if we live out what we believe are already principles of Christian living.

In Christ,
Nick Peters