This past weekend, I read through Michael Horton's A Place for Weakness (previously released as Too Good to Be True). On the surface, this book is about how a Christian ought to face suffering and hardship, but on a deeper level, this book is a celebration of the gospel. What I mean is this: Too often we approach the subject of suffering as if its secondary to the Christian life. We don't deny that people suffer, but we don't expect it to happen to us. We believe that if it does happen, we'll find strength from God to deal with it, so after all it won't be that bad. This allows us to push suffering and hardship to the periphery and let's us embrace a theology that sees God as merely the purveyor of good times. We don't want to see suffering in our lives as having come through God's permissive hand.
Horton beautifully weaves his own stories of hardship and uncertainty with sound teaching about God's sovereignty and with biblical stories of those who have suffered under God's providence. Never does he come up with easy or pat answers to the common questions related to suffering and evil. He writes:
"We cannot know what God has decided in his deep and mysterious hiddenness, and we can only know what God condescends to reveal to us as he cloaks his unapproachable light in humility and weakness. We cannot climb up to God, but he can descend to us. This is the gospel in a nutshell and it sustains us in suffering" (83).
We have no guarantee that we'll be able to understand, this side of eternity, why God has allowed certain difficulties into our lives. Like Job, we must affirm that both good and bad things come from the hand of God (Job 2:10). But we must also take the lesson from Job's story: God is God and we are not. We have no right to question his goodness, his justice, or his will for our lives. This of course does not look good on a T-shirt, nor is it particularly seeker sensitive. Horton, therefore, spends much of the book discussing the inadequacies of popular theology and its emphasis on health and wealth. Yes, we should ask God for healing and for his blessing, but we should not presume upon it. As one of the book's chapter titles puts it, the gospel is "good new for losers." We are a people who are called to suffer because we have a Savior who suffered.
I really enjoyed A Place for Weakness as I look forward to reading Horton's systematic theology The Christian Faith, which was just released last week. I would not recommend it to someone who is currently suffering a difficult period of life because the primary force of this book is instruction and biblical reflection. Instead, this is a book I would recommend people read before they enter such a season, as the subtitle suggests, in order to prepare for the inevitable suffering that Jesus promised would come to his followers.