I was given this as a free review copy by the Evangelical Bookshop Belfast. You can buy it from them here, with free UK postage. (Postage to Ireland is normally cheaper than Amazon too.) This in no way meant I had to give a positive review of the book.
As I’ve said before, I’ve been using this lockdown period to explore more why as a western individual, I struggle so much with suffering in my worldview. Despite following a suffering Saviour for years, every time I experience suffering or talk to those who suffer, I feel not only the fact that this suffering ought not to be in general, but I feel grieved that this has happened to me personally. I deserve better! (Or so I think.) The response of my fellow believers in Africa stuns me. And teaches me a lot.
Dave Furman is a church planter in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). And although his story (see the video above) appears at several key points in the book, it does not dominate the book. This book is centrally focused on helping us grapple with the God of the gospel more, so that Dave’s story, can be our story – of being sustained and even finding deep-rooted joy in the midst of horrific pain, that never seems to cease, and which leads to emotional and relational distress. In fact, I nearly at times lost sight of Dave while reading the book, which in my eyes, was not actually the most helpful. None-the-less, the book is an absolute delight, refreshing, simple and a treasure to ponder, even for someone who reads an awful lot.
“We came to the village intending to change the world for Jesus, but I couldn’t even change my jeans without help.”
Dave’s writing feels like a powerful collection of quotations of many ‘greats’ of recent Christian writing, combined with huge chunks of Biblical wisdom and comfort and finely honed into a soothing package of goodness. It is easy to pick up and read in one go, or perhaps better, taken chapter by chapter and processed over two weeks of devotions.
Quoting Keller in the introduction, it is for everyone, because even if you’re not suffering right now:
“No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable, with friends and family, and successful with our career — inevitably something will ruin it.”Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering
Each chapter starts with a short story from someone Dave knows who has deeply suffered, followed by a connected meditation on some of the most beautiful and encouraging truths of scripture. Because of Dave’s own story, you know these are not just glib comforts trying to stick a plaster over a gaping wound, but treasures that will help sustain you and shape your perspective even in the darkest of times.
One quotation from the book which particularly resonated with me as I work in a graduate context and with many Irish students who’ve considered going or have gone to Dubai:
“I often tell those in our church’s membership class my prayer for each of them. I don’t pray that they would ultimately get promotions, make more money, and be successful in the marketplace (though those aren’t necessarily bad things). I pray they would love Jesus more when they leave Dubai (nonce of us is allowed to retire here, so we all must leave at some point) than they do at that moment. I pray the same for all of us in our trials.”
But putting aside Dubai, I think of my prayers during Coronavirus season. Simplified, they could perhaps be summarised often as:
“God bless me. May I not suffer. May no-one I know suffer. May everyone have their jobs. Would you make clear the future?”
Reading this book, I am forced to abandon the centrality of myself and my will in my prayer life, and replace it with something oh-so-much better.
One final glimpse from the book that I enjoyed but found utterly frustrating as someone who loves to go camping! I must disagree with him plenty here, but love his comparison, speaking about 2 Corinthians 5:1-5!
“It’s not surprising that Paul, a tentmaker by trade, compares our earthly bodies to tents. I don’t own a tent, but I used one on a couple of camping trips as a child. I think the worst thing about camping may be the tent itself. I easily get claustrophobic. When the rain falls, you can hear it hitting the tent just inches from your face. And the worst thing is the buzzing of the buzzing of mosquitoes next to your face, making you feel like they are feasting on your flesh all night long. That’s because they probably are! As you can see, sleeping on a hard floor inside a shabby tent isn’t too compelling for me. A tent is a temporary dwelling place, not a permanent residence. In 2 Corinthians Paul paints a picture of the better, more glorious body as a house in comparison to a tent. Today, Paul says we live in a tent, but a day is coming when our bodies will be more like a house. Tents break and often need to be replaced. They hardly protect you from high and low temperatures or from precipitation. … In this life, our bodies face disease and decay. Paul says, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our Heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:2)”.
As someone who laughs at such shoddy dismissals of camping, and who perhaps rather longs to decrease the emphasis in my life on materialistic dwellings, it took me a little minute to get over it in order to appreciate the Biblical truth behind the passage he was speaking on.
For the wandering Cain, for Abraham (and descendants), for those in the dessert in Numbers, for exiled Israel, for Christ with no place to lay his head, for persecuted ‘strangers and exiles’ across the Greco-Roman world and beyond – temporary dwellings were things very real. Other dwellings were longed for. Camping was not the ultimate reality. These bodies are not our homes. And like Christ, raised in a physical body, so shall we look forward to the day our tents will be replaced, in earthy new ones. What a glorious new reality awaits!
To finish, I must say that although I come from the author’s theological perspective (a reformed one), I am very glad that he (perhaps unlike some reformed authors) at the end does acknowledge that amidst his ultimate trust that God is sovereign over all suffering and uses it for His glory and our good, that it is the devil who is responsible for such evil, which is a glimpse of hell-ish things to come. Those words in the final chapter were very necessary ones, which make it easier for us to approach this God, knowing He is not going to cruelly delight in suffering, pain and endless tears.
This book has helped turned my eyes from thinking I ought not suffer, and praying for my own comfort, to refocusing my heart and mind of the good God of the gospel. I pray it will do like-wise for many.
You can find out more about the Furman’s life in the video below. But before you do, consider buying the book (cheapest here – only the price of two coffees or your work commute for 2 days!), and reading it in lockdown – you won’t be disappointed!