Quote of the Day: Preparing for Suffering

Obviously, none of us can really be prepared for suffering because when it comes, it will be unlike anything we’ve experienced, or if we’ve experienced it before, we’ve probably forgotten what it feels like, unless it’s chronic.

I get the feeling that getting someone who’s life is going well to prepare for suffering is like trying to get a healthy person to exercise when they hate exercising. But when the extreme trial or preventable illness (which I realize can happen to those who are in the best of shape and eat all the right things) comes along, then the tune changes.

However, Ravi Zacharias quotes Charles Cooper regarding suffering in Cries of the Heart, “But what kept me going more than anything else was my confidence in the character of God.” So I think that knowing God–the most important thing–and preparing for suffering can be two very overlapping things. I’ve found that I’ve learned just as much about coping with suffering in reading books on basic theology as I have books specifically about suffering.

Which brings me to the meat of the post. C.S. Lewis says that we should prepare for suffering by doing mental/theological exercises. I think this can be tricky, because there can be a fine line between working on being “prepared” and worrying. I would presume the key is having an attitude of trust instead of fear. In the interest of transparency (I hate buzzwords but can’t think of a better one of my own), trust is one of my weaknesses, so I’m no guru. I’m very familiar with suffering though, which is why so many posts on this blog are on that subject.

In C. S. Lewis’s book A Grief Observed, he tells of how he found that all of his sage insights into dealing with suffering became nothing but so much meaningless rhetoric when he was faced with his wife Joy’s suffering. We can’t really understand suffering until we are involved in it; but we can prepare for it. In fact, we must do so. It is too late to learn a piano concerto when you walk onto the stage to perform it. It is past time to get into shape when you line up at the starting line for the marathon. In the same way, we try to prepare ourselves for suffering before it comes upon us. How do we prepare for suffering? By engaging in mental/theological exercises. It is a sound view of God and the world that can sustain us when the trials come, though we will still need God to undergird our resolve to honor him through it all.

–John Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary)

I highly recommend Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering for a book specifically on that topic.

Throw your burden upon the LORD,
and he will sustain you.
He will never allow the godly to be upended.
Psalm 55:22 NET

4 Responses to “Quote of the Day: Preparing for Suffering”

  1. 1 Eric

    I’ve found that I’ve learned just as much about coping with suffering in reading books on basic theology as I have books specifically about suffering. Amen to that. When I’m in really deep water, there are certain Psalms and Bible passages I instinctively go to, only certain music I can listen to, certain friends I seek out, etc. But in the end, it seems to boil down to God’s character – NOT figuring out the reason behind the suffering or who’s to blame – but trying to settle in and trust in His sovereignty in the midst of it. Eric

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    You’ve written some great comments lately. Maybe it’s because what you say mirrors myself, in this instance. But you often give me things to think about.

    I have to recognize when I’m vulnerable, and avoid any possible triggers, as far as depression goes. When I’m unhappy with how I am, I go to Psalm 139 to find that God made me and knows what my life would turn out like. I don’t know if that’s coping or preparing.

    The thing I like about the recommended book is that half of the content is basically Christology and the other half pertains to suffering, so you get the best of both.

    Thanks again,

  3. 3 Eric

    Jeff – that’s interesting…I spend a lot of time in Ps. 139 – I come back to it on a regular basis. I also spend a lot of time in Ps. 103 and Luke 15 (Prodigal Son). I think I’m trying to somehow get a handle on God’s character by reading these chapters. I know what you mean about triggers. And when I see I’m starting to go down, I try to increase my exercise (walking usually), Bible reading, diet and sleep – to at least soften the fall a little. Eric P.S. Reading hymns actually helps me a lot. I grew up on them so they’re comforting to me. Hymns are not cool any more, so we’ll keep that between us (smiley).

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    I was going to ask you what you like to look at, but didn’t want to bother you about it. Luke 15 is interesting. I’m exercising as much as I can all the time. With chronic fatigue and back pain, that isn’t much though. I’m eating better than ever, although the only thing that has helped is going gluten free.

    When I was a music major in college I had a couple of friends who sang hymns during their ‘quiet times’. Not very quiet. I just can’t get into them, even though the ones that have stood the test of time are good theologically for the most part. Hymns are still cool among many older Reformed writers, but they’re probably not cool either.

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