REVIEW of Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, by Paul David Tripp

SufferingThis practical and theologically sound book on suffering comes from personal experience. Paul David Tripp was a busy counselor and author, working long hours to accomplish lots of good with his ministry. Out of the blue, he lost over half of his kidney function and now, after several surgeries, still suffers from debilitating pain and inability to accomplish things that were once easy for him. In this book he uses personal examples and Biblical teaching to show practical ways to handle the suffering that comes from living in a fallen world.

This easy-to-read book emphasizes that having a right theology of God will enable us to handle suffering better when it comes. “Suffering is never just a matter of the body but is always also a matter of the heart. It’s never just an assault on our situation, but also an attack on our soul…. Too many of us, while battling the cause of our suffering, forget to battle for our hearts.”

The book also provides practical ways to stop our “functional theology”–the theology that arises from the way we act, not from our head knowledge–from morphing into a heretical view of God. “What controls your mediation will control your thoughts about God, yourself, others, your situation, and even the nature of life itself. And as you meditate on what you are suffering, your joy wanes, you hope fades, and God seems increasingly distant. In the meantime, God hasn’t changed, his truth is still true, and what you’re facing hasn’t grown bigger, but it all seems bigger, darker, and more impossible….”

Besides offering advice on controlling our thought life, Tripp reiterates things that Christians know but can forget when they are in the valley. Recount the good things God has done. Sing his praises. Avoid complaining. The Christian community is there to help in times of suffering.

Rather than offering the simple platitude that “God has a purpose for our suffering and that all things will work together for good,” Tripp examines what that “good” really refers to. He turns to the Psalms and the book of Job to show that a certain level of doubt is a normal reaction to the heaviness of suffering, but it must not be a doubt that calls into question the goodness of God. The doubt of “wonderment” at what God is doing is the Psalmist’s way of crying out to God, but the doubt of “judgment” is the way to create a false picture of who God is and make the suffering even harder to bear.

This book was a helpful reminder of the spiritual disciplines that can ease and comfort during times of trial. It did feel needlessly repetitive in some parts, but it was a thoroughly edifying read and will be a great blessing to many when it is released later this month. Recommended.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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