I hesitate to say that I have enjoyed preaching through the Songs of Lament over the last few months, but I honestly have. They are in the Bible for the simple reason that suffering remains a normal part of Christian existence until Christ returns. So while I wish we didn’t have to engage with the darkness of affliction, I am ever so thankful that God hasn’t left us alone in the dark.
He gives us songs to sing. Real songs. Truthful songs. Songs that neither hide our sorrow nor succumb to unbelief. They navigate the narrow path of faith that avoids I’m-fine-how-are-you Christianity on the one side and the slough of Godless despond on the other by keeping our eyes on Jesus, our Great Shepherd who will not fail to bring us home.
I read several thoughtful books on the topic of suffering in preparation for these sermons and have continued to do throughout the series. At present, here are my top four recommendations if you want further help in learning how lament our sorrows to the Man of Sorrows.
Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering
Edited by Nancy Guthrie
“This little volume is quite the gem. Nancy has compiled 25 short readings from authors old and new who address the problem of pain from various angles. Favorite chapters include Philip Yancy, “The Gift of Pain”, Os Guinness, “When We Don’t Know Why, We Trust God Who Knows Why”, and D.A. Carson, “Dying Well”. Guthrie’s collection makes a wise gift to a suffering friend who may or may not understand what the Bible says about sorrow
Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ
By J. Todd Billings
If there is one book God used to convince me to preach from the psalms of lament it was Billing’s volume. Instead of overwhelming you with the pages of notes I took while reading, allow me to share a favorite quote. The entire book is filled with nuggets of biblical wisdom like this:
“My hope and trust in God is not a human creation – it is the work of God’s hands. Thus, I can bring it back to God and offer a lament: Where is your work in us, Lord, when hope seems gone? Will you fulfill your purpose for me when I feel too listless to hope in your coming kingdom? ‘Do not forsake the work of your hands.’ (Ps. 138:8) For I don’t have confidence in my own hope. I have confidence that ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6).” (p. 91)
Good And Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness
Perhaps the strongest commendation I can give Powlison is that immediately after reading his book, I led our Community Group leaders in discussing his chapter on anger at God in suffering. It was so practical, and spoke to exactly the sort of questions we ask ourselves but hardly dare to share with anyone else. Chapters 7 and 8 on the constructive displeasure of mercy are alone worth the price of the book.
How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil
By D.A. Carson
Caron’s work (surprise, surprise) trends in the technical direction. But of all I’ve read from him over the years, this book is one of the more accessible. He shows his cards on the first page of the preface:
“Primarily, this is a book of preventative medicine. One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If by that point our beliefs – not well thought out by deeply ingrained – are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed himself in the Bible and supremely in Jesus, then the pain from the person tragedy may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundations of our faith.”
All of these books are available in our book shop on Sunday mornings after the service. If God’s been speaking to your heart through our this sermon series, choose one of these books and make a plan for reading it over the holidays.
The BookShoppe is open on Sunday mornings from 9:15 am – 10:00 am and following the service until 12:30 pm.