Thursday, November 30, 2006

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, review

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God , ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor
(Crossway, 2006), pb. 256 pp.

I have not read this book all the way through, but I am very impressed with it so far. I think this will be a very useful resource for dealing with suffering and for helping, pastoring those who are suffering.

The book, as many of you will know, grew out of the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. I was taken with the introduction written by Justin Taylor. He stresses the point that this is not a book of abstracts ideas, but is a book of applied theology. This book is not the final word on suffering (as if there could be such a thing!), and it does not claim to be. I liked how Taylor presented the authors as “fellow pilgrims on the journey … friends who are taking the time to write to you about what God has taught them concerning his mysterious sovereignty in the midst of pain and suffering” (11). Overall, as I have dipped into various essays, the book stresses the importance of a confidence in the sovereign control of God over all things in helping us to persevere through pain and suffering. At the same time, various people also remind us that a good theology does not remove the pain. There is the temptation to think that if we have our doctrine arranged correctly, suffering will not hurt so much. The authors make it clear that this is not their claim. In fact, they remind us, to suggest that right theology will minimize suffering is to err considerably and to fail to love others by teaching them error. The sovereignty of God is not a talisman to ward off suffering, but is an anchor to stabilize us as we go through suffering. This is imminently helpful and practical material for us pastors.

The table of contents is viewable at Amazon, so I will not bother with listing the contributors and essay titles. One essay that I especially appreciated was Stephen Saint’s “Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions.” It read to me primarily like a personal account of how God has used suffering in his life. He first indicts us by pointing out what we consider suffering here in the US as compared to what many in other parts of the world consider suffering. This alone is a worthwhile reminder. It deals a lot with how we expend so much effort to avoid suffering. Of course we need not pursue pain, but his point is well taken. He goes on then to point out that “sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered.” Our efforts to insulate ourselves essentially cut us off from ministering to people. I was impacted by this essay, his experience with his father, his daughter and his Waodoni friend moved me. I have found myself reflecting much on this essay at various levels, even beyond what Saint himself was aiming at I think.

So, this is a great resource which I recommend fully. I appreciate again what Taylor said in his introduction:
Our prayer is not that this book would make the bestseller list or receive acclaim or praise. Rather, our prayer is that God would direct the right readers- in accordance with his sovereign purposes- to its pages, and that he would change all of us so that we might experience more grace and hope.
Amen! And I think this book has been well prepared to achieve just this end.


Anonymous said...

Ray, I just finished this book and thought it was outstanding. Interestingly enough, while the theological chapters by Piper and others were extremely good - I found the closing chapter by Joni Erickson Tada to be "worth the price of admission." Theology is absolutely necessary, but sometimes it is the honest cry of the wounded soul that most resonates with us. For what it's worth, I also wholeheartedly recommend this title this holiday season (and you should purchase it from Davis-Kidd Booksellers!)

Chad Davis

Anonymous said...

I haven't worked very far through the book, but I think it will be helpful to read the chapters and listen to the actual messages on They even have the video of the Piper addresses!

Ray Van Neste said...

I agree Chad. Saint's chapter was this sort fo chapter as well.

Brett said...


I was the conference.

I have the book...the mp3 CD...and the DVDs of the conference.

All I can say is that as a pastor constantly interacting with people who are suffering, no resource has helped me more than this conference. I keep going back to it over and over and over.

When we were at the conference Mark Talbot's presentation was all the buzz. At the risk of sounding Vaudeville, he stole the show.

Steve Saint's presentation was very emotional. There were few dry eyes in the house.

I have especially appreciated Justing Taylor's interview with John Piper. It has some of the most compelling thoughts concerning the theodicy problem I have ever encountered, and yet, Piper delivers his answers with such a pastoral tone. This interview alone makes the DVD purchase worthwhile. Justin Taylor has done a great job with the book, but this interview is an example of how sometimes ink and paper cannot communicate at the same level as verbal communication and all the nonverbal that can contribute. The pathos and passion is palpable.

If you buy the DVD series from Desiring God, I guarantee you won't regret it. It's only $20 (I don't work for DG!)