In about a week and a half we are beginning a new series at LifePoint, called “Letter to an Exile.” It will be a 5-month journey through the book of 1 Peter, passage by passage. I have been preparing for this series for a number of months through some in-depth study of the book. One of the major themes of 1 Peter is endurance through suffering. I was reminded today of a book I have read a few different times that addresses this subject.
Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff is a book I first read for a seminary class about 10 years ago. The name of the course was “Theodicy and the Problem of Evil.” It was an intense class theologically, and this book (along with The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis), were probably my best takeaways from the course. Wolterstorff writes this lament in response to the sudden and devastating death of his oldest child (of 5), Eric, who was killed in a rock climbing accident in Europe in 1983 at only 25 years old. The text is the heart-wrenching cry of a man who knows God, as an accomplished and famous Yale theology professor, but who is grappling with the pain and sorrow of what feels like pointless suffering. The quotes are too numerous to repeat here—if I read this whole book with a highlighter every sentence would be yellow. Needless to say, as you read this book you experience his pain along with him—the ability he has to reflect on his feelings and express them in this lament is prolific. A few examples of the later part of the book show the impact of this writing. These are extended quotes, but I think they show the depth of his experiential wisdom in terms of suffering. Every page of the book bleeds this kind of depth:
“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song—all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
“We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God” (p. 80)
He continues to explain:
“God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God. It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.
“And great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.
“Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
“But I never saw it. Though I confessed that the man of sorrows was God himself, I never saw the God of sorrows. Though I confessed that the man bleeding on the cross was the redeeming God, I never saw God himself on the cross, blood from sword and thorn and nail dripping healing into the world’s wounds” (pp. 81-82)
Whether you have gone through deep suffering, you are going through it now, or you just want a text that will challenge you in this area, I would recommend Lament for a Son.