Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond

Suffering Well: The Predictable Surprise of Christian Suffering by Paul Grimmond
Publisher: Matthias Media (2011); 166 pp.

I was glad for the opportunity to review Paul Grimmond's book Suffering Well: The Predictable Surprise of Christian Suffering, part of the Guidebooks for Life series published by Matthias Media. This book challenged me, and not in the way I was expecting.

The author makes it clear from the beginning that this book isn't a study of theodicy (an attempt to explain why suffering exists in light of God's goodness), but an exploration of how the Bible calls Christians to suffer well. In other words, as he puts it, the book is "more of an inoculation than a remedy."

Grimmond sketches the increasingly dominant cultural myths which have begun to color our reading of the Bible instead of vice versa. This "modern anti-suffering grid" inhibits us from thinking biblically about the nature of suffering and skews the questions we ask about it. We demand that God explain Himself to us, instead of remembering His sovereignty over us, His creatures.

The hinge-point of the book is chapter 5, "The Surprisingly Predictable Surprise." Here Grimmond makes the argument that, unlike the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, the New Testament is not primarily concerned about the suffering which is the result of the fallenness of our world (terminal disease, natural disaster).  Rather, it repeatedly makes the claim that suffering at the hands of an unbelieving world is guaranteed for those who follow a suffering Lord. Belonging to Christ is a death sentence for every believer, because it's only through the suffering that comes of living for Jesus that we will also be glorified with Him.

Most Western Christians don't think in these terms anymore. In this respect, there is a tremendous distance between us and our earliest counterparts. Grimmond argues that, while we tend to think of this form of suffering in terms of physical persecution, the New Testament actually uses much broader language to describe it. We've forgotten how strongly Scripture exhorts believers to be ready to be reviled, spoken against, and maligned for their obedience to Christ.

Grimmond sums it up this way on p. 97:
The great danger for Christians living in the West is not physical death at the hands of persecutors, but the slow, spiritual death of a thousand tiny compromises crouched at our door, waiting to devour our hearts. And one of the saddest predicaments of our age is that at the moment we need it most, we have let go of a robust theology of belonging to Christ and suffering for him.
He goes on to say that, while it is right for relatively privileged Christians to remember their brothers and sisters who are subject to physical persecution in other parts of the world, we don't serve each other by denying that we suffer at all. When we downplay other forms of suffering, "we fail to teach each other to live without shame in the face of the more subtle pressures in our culture." Or, we become preoccupied with defending a God who lets cancer and tsunamis happen, forgetting that the Bible's focus is to call us to live such godly lives that the world will hate us for it.

In summary, I think what Grimmond's arguing is that we will make any excuse for our disobedience, hiding from the fact that our Christian lives should be marked by discomfort in this world. We will even use the distant reality of persecuted Christians, and our sophisticated arguments about theodicy, as screens for our unwillingness to live in a way that marks us as belonging to Jesus, not to the world. This wasn't quite the direction I'd been expecting the book to go, and I have certainly been convicted by it.

The book doesn't ignore the issue of "general" suffering. In fact, it is linked to the suffering caused by outward persecution in that every earthly struggle is used by God to conform us to the image of His Son. This teaching on the Father's discipline of His children is deeply comforting to me. Honestly, I don't know how I would begin to cope with pain in my life if I didn't believe that the Lord was using it in some way (though I may not understand how or why) for my good and His glory.

Suffering Well has a lot more excellent content. It includes advice on how to praise God with integrity and to do good in the midst of suffering, and, most importantly, it closes with the precious reminder of believers' union with Christ. The latter truth is what affords us genuine hope in suffering: "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." (Rom. 6:5) Only as we learn to savor this truth will we be free to suffer well.

This book is meant to equip believers with biblical nuts and bolts, not to be theologically exhaustive. I'm sure that someone with greater exegetical skills than mine could critique Grimmond's claims in this area. But I can say that this book led me to repentance and made me want to spend more time in God's Word, dwelling on His promises. I'm so glad I read it, and I hope it will prompt both new and seasoned Christians to a renewed discussion of suffering in Christ.

To listen to an interview with the author, check out this link.

The publisher provided me with a review copy of this book, and I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.


  1. Great review Sarah! So glad to have you in the Suffering Well blog tour.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews

  2. Hi Sarah. Just dropped by to say thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and well thought out review. I am really encouraged to hear how God has helped you to grasp the ideas and that he is using them to challenge and grow you.

    Paul G.