At the very end of last year, I read Tullian Tchividjian’s Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free. The topic of suffering has been on my mind a lot over the last year or so, and I was interested in seeing what Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s son-in-law, by the way) had to say.
In many ways, this was a challenging read for me that pushed my thinking, but I thought it was helpful. Again and again, Tchividjian (type that name five times fast!) argues that the answer to suffering is not stoicism or seeking some silver lining; rather it leaves us broken and therefore more open to meeting Jesus.
And here are some of my favorite quotations from the book [with my comments added in brackets]:
“The required cheerfulness that characterizes many of our churches produces a suffocating environment of pat, religious answers to the painful, complex questions that riddle the lives of hurting people.” (p.7) [Of all places, people should feel safe to share their hurts at church!]
“…This side of heaven, suffering often points to a deeper reality, an indicator of both personal and cosmic discord.” (p.8) [I think suffering is the only wake-up call that some people ever hear.]
“So what would a God who was present in suffering look like? First and foremost, He would be a God who suffers Himself. Maybe even dies. A God who meets people in their suffering, rather than on the other side of it. Pain might even be one of His primary avenues for reaching people.” (p.11)
“…The gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering; rather, it is the message of God’s rescue through pain.” (p.21)
“While God does indeed use the suffering in our lives, He is interested in much more than improvements in your personality or circumstantial happiness. He is interested in saving you.” (p.44)
“Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is about bad people coping with their failure to be good.” (p.51)
“The gospel is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself.” (p.52)
“When the bottom falls out of our lives, we don’t necessarily find it comforting when people try to cheer us up. No matter how well intended, such overtures create pressure that adds to our distress. Not only are we suffering, but we now feel bad about how we make those around us feel or, at least, about the disconnect between where they would like us to be and where we actually are.” (p.82) [From a pastoral perspective, this is huge: ministers (and anyone, really) need to take it easy on always trying to cheer up those who are suffering. Sometimes, we just need to let them grieve.]
“There’s nothing like suffering to remind us how not in control we actually are, how little power we ultimately have, and how much we ultimately need God. In other words, suffering reveals to us the things that ultimately matter, which also happen to be the warp and woof of Christianity: who we are and who God is.” (p.96) [Yes, absolutely.]
“The Lord mercifully put to death Job’s final idol—the idol of explanation. God liberated Job from the prison of Why. He liberated Job from himself. It was a glorious ruin.” (p.103)
“Brokenness precedes usefulness. It just does. Who reaches out to parents who have lost children to drunken driving accidents? Other parents who have lost children to drunken driving accidents. When we go through something painful and when God breaks us, it makes us both more useful to others and more willing to be used.” (p.120) [I am firmly convinced that we become better witnesses for God when we have suffering in our pasts.]
“Suffering…has a way of liberating us from the petty concerns and worries that bog down our everyday existence.” (p.121)
“Perhaps the only solace you can draw from suffering is that you begin to see that we were truly made for another world.” (p.132)
“And yet, our hope does not ultimately lie in our present liberation. There is no guarantee that we will experience relief from pain. I wish I could say there was. This life may feel like one long, painful death. All you can do is hang on, and sometimes you can’t even do that. Fortunately, the good news of the gospel is not an admonition to hang on to God with all your strength and willpower and you’ll be okay. The good news of the gospel is not some gnostic encouragement to view your suffering in the right way, or understand the theology of the cross more deeply. No, the good news is that God is hanging on to you. He’s not waiting for you to save yourself or mature into someone who no longer needs Him. He will not let you go, come what may. Jesus will never, ever leave you or forsake you.” (p.138) [He brings it all home here; this was really powerful to me.]
Sadly, we live in a fallen world, and as a result of that, suffering is all around us. Because of this, it is easy to find books on how to deal with suffering, or how to grow or improve yourself through suffering. What sets Glorious Ruin apart is that it suggests that, ultimately, suffering leads us to God, not a better version of ourselves.