What is similar and different counselors and beauty queens? Well, we both want to end human suffering and seek world peace BUT the counselor no longer talks as if it is possible in this life. We know that sitting in suffering is, in fact, an important act in this life.
So, for all you counselor types out there, I have a theology book for you. Currently, I am reading Suffering and the Goodness of God, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Crossway, 2008).
Not all theology books are stuffy. Really. This one is very readable and helpful. Chapter one (Robert Yarbrough) lists 11 theses about suffering. I will not repeat them all here but each one is illustrated from Scripture and personal experience. Here is a taste:
1. Suffering is neither good nor completely explicable
2. Suffering in itself is no validation of religious truth
3. Accounting for suffering is forced upon us by our times
4. Suffering may be a stumbling block to Gospel reception
5. Suffering Creates teachable moments for Gospel reception (though this does not make suffering, in itself, good)
7. Suffering is the price of much fruitful ministry
10. Suffering unites us with other sinners we seek to serve
Lest you think this book takes a happy view of suffering, consider this quote:
It is certainly true that it is primarily God himself who in his redemptive activity has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). But this new birth does not take place in a vacuum. Rather it unfolds amidst earthly life, which is manifestly to some extent a vale of tears.
We sometimes wish to talk about “new birth” and redemption as if our suffering does not continue in this life.
The rest of the book addresses OT and NT interactions with suffering, the problem of evil and oppression and two chapters written by theologians about their own personal suffering. A good read if you realize you cannot ignore suffering or go back to some prior period of naiveté.