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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books about God and suffering reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "2010 Election: The Governors," Oct. 23, 2010

Lost in the Middle

Middle age brings with it regrets and disappointments about lost dreams, stalled careers, broken families, and bodies showing signs of our mortality. It can be a period of lostness, even for Christians, who can't figure out what God is doing and why. Some people get so off-track that they turn away from God. Tripp writes, "A robust and practical theology of suffering is one of the most essential tools for making sense out of the struggles of mid life." He uses stories from his years of counseling to show how heart idolatries subtly take the place of Christ in our affections. He offers clear, practical, and scriptural help meant to reorient us to see who Christ is and what He is up to.

By Grace Alone

Ferguson uses the verses of an unfamiliar hymn, "How the Grace of God Amazes Me" ( to approach grace from seven different angles. As he carefully works through Luke 15, several chapters of Job, Luke 23, and 2 Corinthians 5, Ferguson asks and answers questions suggested by the text, encouraging the reader to dig deeper. In one place he writes, "Chew on these passages like a dog gnaws a bone. Persevere with this teaching until it grips you. Struggle with it until it dawns on you, and you say: "O how the grace of God amazes me!" Ferguson's book is a good guide to that process.

The Goodness of God

Ferguson says in his book that one of Satan's tricks is to confuse us about God's character. Alcorn addresses that and other questions about suffering in this slender primer. He includes stories, but his approach is more propositional and will appeal to readers who want to study the subject systematically. He examines briefly the prosperity gospel, the role of suffering in God's redemptive plan, and alternative (Buddhist and other) explanations for evil and suffering. Alcorn writes that he found comfort in his search to find the answer to the question, Why is there suffering? He adds, "Genuine faith will be tested by suffering; false faith will be lost-the sooner, the better."

A Place of Healing

Alcorn's book is a popular overview, and Tada's an urgent first-person battlefield account of a sufferer clinging to Christ in the midst of her suffering. She covers much of the same ground as Alcorn, but her analysis is embedded in her current struggle to understand how abstract theology meshes onto the reality of her daily struggle against pain. Her chapter titles capture this dynamic: How do I regain my perspective? How can I bring Him glory? What benefit is there to my pain? Although the subtitle deals with healing, the book goes way beyond that topic; see "In the thick of it."


City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell (Henry Holt, 2010) is a wonderful novel set in China in the early years of the 20th century. Its opening shows Will Kiehn, an old man in southern California, surveying his room with its "three scrolls depicting New Testament scenes," his Chinese New Testament, "its spine soft and its pages worn." On his dresser is a wedding picture of Will and his bride (they were married 37 years). The last thing he mentions is his wife's diary, which he knows by heart: She "taught me the self-disciple I lacked, believed I was capable of far more than I did, and loved me as a young man as well as an old one."

The novel is a love story and a gripping adventure tale of two young missionaries who serve the Lord during droughts, famine, and political upheaval in China. It's told through Kiehn's recollections and through in-the-moment diary entries of his wife. Funny, exciting, and heartbreakingly sad, it showcases the power of the gospel.


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