Suffering is universal. Everyone suffers in some way. Natural catastrophes destroy property and take lives. Floods, earthquakes, famines, tornadoes, and droughts often come unexpectedly and with great devastating force. The loss of a loved one, the loss of health, the loss of possessions, human injustice and violence—all bring suffering, pain, and grief.
Do these things occur by happenstance, or does God have a reason for suffering? Enns addresses this disturbing question in this book that is filled with biblical principles and life illustrations. As he asks, Is God in control? Is He sovereign? Does He have a plan? “Is God in control over the bad things that happen . . . or are the tragic events of this world simply blind, chance happenings?” (p. 12).
What good can come from suffering? Enns points out that often bad things can have good results. One example is Paul’s imprisonment, which gave him opportunity to share the gospel with his guards. Another result is to deepen believers’ walk with the Lord. Calamities, he says, can force them “to stop trusting [themselves] and begin trusting in the Lord” (p. 69). “In the valleys God gets our attention and draws us to Himself” (p. 173).
In a chapter on Satan’s role in the problem of suffering Enns writes that believers often suffer because Satan hinders, tempts, schemes, destroys, and devours (pp. 76–84). Another reason for suffering is personal sin, and a prime example is King David. Enns also devotes a chapter to the suffering believers experience when being persecuted. He states that even persecution can have benefits, such as encouraging believers to honor Christ, to demonstrate faithfulness, and to experience joy. Suffering, in fact, is a privilege, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 1:29; and 2 Timothy 1:8 and 2:2. Suffering can also reveal the good qualities of a dedicated believer (p. 115).
However, sufferers, Enns points out, do not always have the big picture. “Our vision is too nearsighted. We see only our own needs, and our bodies and our emotions cry out for a pain-free life, for tranquility. But God . . . has purposes that we cannot begin to fathom. There is a purpose that far surpasses our comprehension, and we must walk by faith, not sight” (pp. 114–15).
In chapter 11 Enns discusses heaven, the believers’ true home, in which they will have new bodies and suffering will be ended. He writes later that believers “need to remember that our sufferings are temporal—our joy in heaven is eternal. And because of our future hope, we do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16–18)” (p. 219). Then in chapter 12 he suggests three things to do when experiencing suffering: (1) Remember that God is sovereign. (2) Think the right thoughts. (3) Nurture a divine perspective of the issues (p. 189). Enns then cites 170 Bible passages related to the subject of suffering. The passages are listed under 62 topics, ranging from burdens to worry, and from endurance to protection. Believers who are suffering will do well to read and meditate on these relevant passages. In his final chapter Enns says again, “God is sovereign and is entirely good and causes all things to happen for a reason” (p. 226).
Enns, a Dallas Seminary graduate, is the director of the Tampa Extension of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary. This is an excellent book to put in the hands of any who are struggling to understand why they are undergoing hardships. Also the chapters give pastors good preaching material.
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