Book Reviews

“Surprised by Suffering” by R C Sproul

{Book Review}

I have read this book before. I don’t remember where I first heard the name R C Sproul (probably from a Paul Washer or John Piper sermon) but in my early twenties for some reason I was prompted to grab a couple of books by him from the library. Those books were The Holiness of God and Surprised by Suffering; those books changed my life.

Though I read The Holiness of God – and was floored by it – first, it was probably Surprised by Suffering that first truly challenged the worldview I was raised with. I can remember feeling like I was carrying contraband through my house and trying to hide the book title – or, at least the subtitle; “the Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life” – from family members.

(After quoting and talking about 1 Peter 4)

“Here, Peter erases all doubt about the question of whether it is ever the will of God that we should suffer. He speaks of those who suffer “according to the will of God.” This text means that suffering itself is part of the sovereign will of God.” – R C Sproul, Surprised by Suffering (pg 7)

(After discussing Jesus’s suffering and His role as the “suffering servant”)

“I am astonished that, in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will. . . .” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.

Away with such distortions of biblical faith! They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.” – ibid. (pg 17)

Such would have provoked gasps of horror, shock, and even anger among the people I grew up around… at least, I thought so at the time – and they have given me no reason to think otherwise since my first reading of the book.

But these quotations come in the midst of the portion of the book where Dr. Sproul makes; I think, a masterful set of observations on Christ’s travails in the garden of Gethsemane. And looking at the texts cited – and many more – by Dr. Sproul to support his case, I was convinced that what I had been taught about “divine healing/health” was wrong.

Again, I think Dr. Sproul does a masterful job in asking “what has God said about suffering?” – and going to God’s words in the Scriptures to reasonably answer that question.

And more – only half the book directly deals with suffering – the rest of the book is an examination of the biblical doctrines of death and heaven.

But, for me and the false expectations in life I developed due to my Word-Faith upbringing, the first section dealing primarily with suffering was the most helpful.

I think a decent summation of the point Dr. Sproul tried to make in the whole book would be this quote from page 23: “Because of Christ, our suffering is not useless. It is part of the total plan of God, who has chosen to redeem the world through the pathway of suffering.

I would highly recommend this book to the reader. I am sure it would prove a source of encouragement and edification. Or if the reader finds they have more time/attention available when listening to something, I would also recommend listening to anything you might find on the topic of suffering at ligonier.org – it is also an easy way to get to their store and get the book ;] – or renewingyourmind.org . . .

I listen to “renewing your mind” most workday mornings through familyradio.org . . . Their West Coast channels play it at 8 a.m.

Anyway, hope at least some of these resources proves useful to the reader.

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