Nancy Guthrie has done us a wonderful service by bringing together serious authors for a serious book on pain and suffering. In Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose & Provision in Suffering Guthrie compiles “25 classic and contemporary readings on the problem of pain.” Divided into three parts (God’s Perspective on Suffering, God’s Purpose in Suffering, and God’s Provision in Suffering), the reader is helped by writers such as Tim Keller (“Suffering: The Servant of Our Joy”), Joni Eareckson Tada (“God’s Plan A”), Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“The Test of a Crisis”), Charles Haddon Spurgeon (“Faith Tried and True”), Corrie ten Boom (“Just What You Need, Just in Time”), Martin Luther (“To Suffer as Christ Did”), and Jonathan Edwards (“Refuge and Rest in Christ”).
In Part Two (God’s Purpose in Suffering) D.A. Carson offers a chapter entitled, “Dying Well.” Adapted from his helpful book How Long, O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Carson takes up a topic that few want to face, namely, death.
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter where Carson suggests that at least one purpose for our suffering in the hands of God is to make us homesick for heaven.
Is not some of the pain and sorrow in this life used in God’s providential hand to make us homesick for heaven, to detach us from this world, to prepare us for heaven, to draw our attention to himself, and away from the world of merely physical things?
In Psalm 90 we see that as Moses stares at death, he thinks through its relation to life, to sin, to God, and strives to understand what death means. And then he asks for wisdom to live his life in light of that death. He would have utterly scorned the modern mood that wants to live life as if death were not there waiting for us at the end. Moses wants us “to number our days,” that is, to recognize the limit that is imposed on us, and to live with that limit in full view. Only in this way can we “gain a heart of wisdom.”
Now let us suppose that your spouse comes home from a medical checkup with fearful news: there are signs that a vicious melanoma has taken hold. The hospital runs emergency tests during the next few days and the news comes back all bad: the prognosis is three months’ survival at best, and all that modern medicine can do is mitigate the pain.
I do not want to minimize the staggering blow such news can administer to any family. There are many forms of practical comfort and support that thoughtful people can show. But it must be said that if you are a Christian who has thought about these things in advance, you will recognize that this sentence of death is no different in kind from what you and your spouse have lived under all your life; that you have been preparing for this day since your conversion; that you have already laid up treasure in heaven, and your heart is there.
We are all under sentence of death; we are all terminal cases. The only additional factor is that in this case the sentence, barring a miracle, will certainly be carried out sooner than you had anticipated. I am not pretending that this bare truth is immensely comforting. Our comfort turns on other factors. But full acceptance of this truth can remove a fair bit of unnecessary shock and rebellion; for we will have escaped the modern Western mind-set that refuses to look at death, to plan for death, to live in the light of death, to expect death.
For the believer, the time of death becomes far less daunting a factor when seen in the light of eternity. Although death remains an enemy, an outrage, a sign of judgment, a reminder of sin, and a formidable opponent, it is, from another perspective, the portal through which we pass to consummated life. We pass through death, and death dies. And the more a Christian lives in the consciousness of God’s presence here, the easier it is to anticipate the unqualified delight that will be experienced in God’s presence there.
Read the whole chapter here.