What does Paul mean when he says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions?” Is your vision of God and your understanding of the biblical theology of suffering sufficient to sustain you if (when!) God calls you to suffer for the sake of His Name both here on the home front or perhaps on the mission field? This seminar is designed to prepare you for such suffering and to help you “count it all joy.”
The above is the description of the 9th seminar of our Practical Theology course entitled “Suffering for the Sake of the Body: The Pursuit of People through Pain.”
The requirements were to read Chapter 3 of Let the Nations Be Glad! 2d ed. and Chapter 10 of Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.
Lastly, we were to write a 1-3 page letter to someone who has experienced a significant measure of suffering, “using pastoral sensitivity and Biblical insight to bring truth-based, faith-sustaining, Christ-exalting comfort.” Given the fact that this letter is due tomorrow, and today is Mother’s Day, I decided to write my letter to a couple that struggles with infertility.
Though unassigned, the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God proved invaluable for me. An anthology, this book is divided into three sections: The Sovereignty of God in Suffering, The Purposes of God in Suffering, and The Grace of God in Suffering, and contains chapters from John Piper, Mark Talbot, Steve Saint, Carl Ellis, David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Joni Eareckson Tada. I have found it to be a rare combination of rich theology (for example, Talbot takes on the problem of evil) and pastoral insight. My wife discovered that I (unconsciously) structured my letter in the same three-section format of this book. I guess that shows how much it influenced me.
Update: My friend graciously gave his permission for me to publish the letter, which he said was “helpful….along with other literature we received…..as we read them in our own timing.” He also noted that (as I had suspected) “it is the friend who stands by in silence [immediately after a personal tragedy] that is the most comforting.”