Suffering is a topic which has grown increasingly to interest/trouble me over the past few years. Why suffering, and why Christian suffering? I want to know why there’s so much suffering in the world, and also why Christians suffer, so much. I know some of the answers already, theoretically. But it’s not enough – I need to confront this, and face it and wrestle with it until I’ve wrested out some peace, or at least a more grounded faith about it.

Hence I asked for two books about it for Christmas – C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, and John J. Murray’s Behind a Frowning Providence. Two very different books, and authors – one from a Christian apologist whom I’m hoping at least deals with suffering as an overall problem faced by the world(within a Christian context of course) and one from a well-known writer who deals with things from a strictly Biblical standpoint. The former hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve begun the latter and am finding it both satisfying and lacking. Murray deals with suffering in a straightfoward, pratical, Biblically-focused way; and this is at once his strength and his weakness. Strength, because his points and arguments derive directly from the Bible and are therefore both convincing and clearly truthful.  Weakness, because there’s none of the eloquence or rhetoric or wide vision characteristisc of C.S. Lewis in his other book, A Grief Observed.  But Murray is answering some of my questions, and this little booklet will definitely need to be read and studied over more. Beginning in, I was plagued by a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, and then I realized that it’s because I was subconsciously hoping/expecting that he would deal with suffering on a wider level – but why should he? He is dealing with it as it applies to Christians, and that’s enough for him. For now, it’s enough for me too. After all, it’s probably the fundamental question I’m asking, even as I wonder about the fate/state of the world.

Excerpts:

“Providence is that marvellous working of God by which all the events and happennings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind.”

“People are looking for a problem-free Christianity.”

“C.S. Lewis once referred to sufferings as ‘blockades on the road to hell’. The same sun the melts the ice also hardens the clay. Says Andrew Fuller, ‘Afflictions refine some, they consume others’. The test of a person’s Christianity is what happens in the storm, when the house is battered in the winds of affliction.”

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part”

-from John Newton’s hymn “I Asked the Lord”

“We might be tempted to ask whether God can build character without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so. ”

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.”

-Robert Browning Hamilton

The title of the book comes from a William Cowper hymn which contains not only the famous phrase “God moves in a mysterious way/ His wonders to perform”, but also “Behind a frowning providence/He hides a smiling face”.

    • OD moves in a mysterious way,
      His wonders to perform;
      He plants his footsteps in the sea,
      And rides upon the storm.
      Deep in unfathomable mines
      Of never-failing skill,
      He treasures up his bright designs,
      And works his sov’reign will.
      Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
      The clouds ye so much dread
      Are big with mercy, and shall break
      In blessings on your head.
      Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
      But trust him for his grace;
      Behind a frowning providence
      He hides a smiling face.
      His purposes will ripen fast,
      Unfolding ev’ry hour;
      The bud may have a bitter taste,
      But sweet will be the flow’r.
      Blind unbelief is sure to err,
      And scan his work in vain;
      God is his own interpreter,
      And he will make it plain.

-William Cowper, Light Shining Out of Darkness

Advertisements