Book Reviews

Between Pain and Grace

A Biblical Theology of Suffering

Gerald W. Peterman, Andrew J. Schmutzer Chicago, IL 2016

Gerald Peterman is professor of Bible and director of the Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies program at Moody Bible Institute. He holds a PhD from King’s College, London. Andrew Schmutzer is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. His PhD is from Trinity International University.

Peterman and Schmutzer approach this subject from both personal experience and clinical research. This is not a book dealing with the philosophical explanations for suffering, nor is it a defense of God, a theodicy. Their objective is to discover “what Scripture says about suffering well and helping others in their suffering” (p. 9). They contribute to the discussion of suffering by asking: (1) Does God suffer? (chaps. 3 and 4); (2) Is anger a type of suffering? (chap. 6); (3) What does the Bible say about sexual abuse and mental illness as suffering? (chaps. 10 and 11); and How should we deal with damaged relationships between God, humankind, and the earth itself? (chap. 2). One of the book’s most valuable contributions speaks to “the mindset of the unease our faith culture has toward pain and suffering” (p. 11). Our postmodern culture “mistrusts the metanarrative of Scripture as well as its claim to a good God” in the face of suffering (ibid.).

Chapter 1 includes basic definitions in the “Grammar of Suffering.” Here the authors delineate the terms “pain” and “suffering.” They assert that “pain is primarily objective, external, and typically social or physical as opposed to personal and mental” (p. 14). Suffering is said to be “primarily subjective, internal, and typically mental or emotional as opposed to physical or social” (ibid.). Pain can lead to suffering or to discovery and correction. The interpretation or assignment of meaning to pain depends on how the person deals with the pain. The examples given in this chapter include Paul and Jeremiah, showing similarities and differences between them. The chapter concludes with the following observations: “While the Old Testament writers struggle with theodicy (e.g., Habakkuk), the New Testament emphasizes the transformative power of Christ’s innocent suffering for the redemption of others” (p. 27). The discussion of the New Testament considers (1) pain and suffering as “both physical and emotional”; (2) the people who suffer; (3) desire as a “key feature of suffering”; (4) the “emotionally rich picture filled with intricacies and tensions” that the New Testament presents; and (5) Scripture’s affirmation that emotions can be either appropriate or inappropriate (pp. 34–35).

The remaining chapters deal with “the relational ecosystem of sin and suffering” (chap. 2); “the suffering of God” (chap. 3); Jesus’s suffering (chap. 4); “lament” in Scripture as the “language of suffering (chap. 5); anger as a type of suffering, especially as “redemptive suffering” (chap. 6); how the Lord’s Prayer relates to suffering (chap. 7); “leadership and tears” (chap. 8); the example of Joseph and “family toxins” (chap. 9); “sexual abuse” and a “host of betrayals” (chap. 10); “the unique suffering of mental illness” (chap. 11); “suffering and God’s people” (chap. 12); and finally “a longing for home,” conclusions drawn from the discussion (chap. 13).

Three chapters are of special—perhaps unique—interest. First, chapter 3 deals with the suffering of God, an often discussed concept. According to the authors, “It is our contention that God relates to his creation in willing vulnerability. From his committed relationship with his rebellious creatures God experiences an inevitable emotional pain” (p. 62). They go on to say that there is a “theology of the suffering of God” throughout Scripture. They support this contention with a discussion of theological concepts and then an examination of “key passages”: Genesis 6:5–6; Exodus 3:7–10; Numbers 14:2–5, 9–13, 19–20; Hosea 11:8–9; Jeremiah 9:1, 10; 13:7; 14:17–18; and Revelation 5:6. These studies are followed by six guidelines: (1) “avoid philosophical theism”; (2) “recognize the paradox”; (3) “accept our own weaknesses”; (4) “understand that his suffering helps mend our lives”; (5) “let the suffering God draw us into profound relationship”; (6) and “embrace music that recognizes the suffering of God.”

Second, chapter 6 deals with “suffering and redemptive anger” (p. 131–46). While few consider “anger” to be suffering, Peterman does a commendable job in presenting this concept. He defines anger as “a secondary emotion with a strong feeling of displeasure aroused by something one perceives to be morally wrong, personally painful, or threatening to the self or to something the individual considers valuable” (pp. 132–33). Recognizing a destructive nature to anger, he goes on to lay out an argument for redemptive anger that is “motivated by love and [whose] goal . . . [is] to rescue, to vindicate, to protect, or to restore” (p. 134). Passages presented as support for this view are Genesis 42—50; Nehemiah 5:1–10; John 11:33–38; 2 Corinthians 11:29; and Ephesians 4:26–27. He concludes with a warning and a discussion on the value of anger.

Third, Schmutzer deals with sexual abuse. “Behind every occasion of sexual abuse is a destructive set of betrayals” (p. 209). He then gives examples and discusses some “key realities” that indicate sexual abuse. “Common trauma signs of victims of sexual abuse” are “hyper-vigilance, avoidance effort, post-traumatic stress disorder, distorted thinking and isolation, and compulsivity in sexual behavior” (p. 213). This chapter is especially helpful in identifying pornography and sexual risk taken as “gateway experiences” (p. 214). Sexually abused people are more likely to engage in these. Schmutzer offers sage advice to survivors and also offers recommendations to the church family and Christian organizations.

Between Pain and Grace is a useful offering in the discussion of suffering and adds biblical studies that would be helpful in churches and Christian institutions. Each chapter has several discussion questions that make the book useful for small study groups, adult Bible fellowships, and more. The book is well documented and offers a Scripture index. While it does offer a biblical theology of suffering, it also has a great deal of helpful psychological and counseling information. It might better be subtitled A Biblical Theology and Psychological Study of Suffering.

Book reviews are published online and in print every quarter in Bibliotheca Sacra. Subcribe Today

Review
Jul 21, 2018
D. Scott BarfootD. Scott Barfoot
Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership. One of the greatest theological insights embodied in the triune God, the biblical institution of marriage, and the local church is the worship-inspiring and transformational...
Review
Jul 21, 2018
Joseph D. FantinJoseph D. Fantin
Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. Volume 4: 24:1–28:31. Now complete, Craig Keener’s four volume, 4501 page (xlii + 4459), 10¾ inch (27.5 cm) wide, 19 lb (8.62 kg) commentary, with more than 45,000 ancient nonbiblical references on...