Suffering is no respecter of persons. It does not discriminate “on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, nationality, disability, marital status, or any other distinguishing characteristic. Dr. Ryken, president of Wheaton College, offers us When Trouble Comes, an honest reflection on suffering that exposes his own weaknesses, struggles, and temptations.
Many authors would approach a book like this with a seemingly unending string of short stories concluded with a Bible verse and brief devotional. Not Dr. Ryken. He effectively uses restraint in presenting his own story, allowing the Bible itself to be the primary voice.
“I don’t talk about myself much in my books and public messages. My main purpose is to talk about Jesus. But sometimes talking about me can help me tell other people about Jesus, and this is one of those times.” (11)
It is clear that Scripture, not experience, is both the foundation and interpreter of his worldview.
Ryken takes an in-depth look at eight biblical accounts in which the protagonist faces great suffering. His recounting of the story is clear and thought provoking. His insight moves beyond the typically over simplistic cliché: just have faith like David, to a deeper understanding of suffering.
Having admitted his own thoughts of suicide, Ryken comments about Elijah:
“Notice that even at the point of absolute desperation—when he may have been the loneliest man in the world—Elijah still managed to pray. He took his complaint to God. Rather than taking his life, as he was tempted to do, he asked God if he could die. Deep down, the prophet knew that suicide is a sin—not an unforgivable sin, and often a sin of weakness rather than malice, but a sin nonetheless. So even when he wanted to die, Elijah acknowledged God’s lordship over life and death.” (42)
Then he brings us practical and gospel-centered application:
“Whenever we feel as if we have had enough, we need to go back to Jesus and learn again that he is more than enough. This is not simply a Sunday school answer, it’s the complete answer, because Jesus is everything we need. Jesus hears the prayers of anguish that we offer in our solitary places. He knows our discouragement and our depression, if that’s how bad things are. He hears our cries for help and does not abandon us. He still loves us and is reaching out to touch us. He wants to forgive our ungodly sins and grant rest to our weary souls.” (51)
Realistic and hopeful, When Trouble Comes challenges our interpretation, changes our perspective, gives us tools both to prepare for inevitable suffering and encourage us on the path, and most importantly, points us to our suffering Savior, Jesus Christ.
Dr. Phil Ryken
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.