“What if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes?”
If you are a Christian, there’s a good chance you’ve been subject to some bad theology about pain and suffering. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of well-meaning but sickly-saccharine card after a loved one’s death with a Bible verse about heaven that’s meant to comfort, but instead leaves you feeling lonely and left behind. Maybe you’ve shared about a hardship in your life and had someone respond with an American-tinged answer to “keep your chin up” or “let go and let God.” Maybe you’ve even listened to a friend share about a painful experience and found yourself dismissing their story with the out-of-context promise of Jeremiah 29:11—a verse given to an entire nation as they were told they’ve be living through an exile of seventy years.
While the American church is able to acknowledge that pain is a problem, the way we talk about, interact with others experiencing it, and then process it can make the sufferer feel even worse. No one has been untouched by suffering, simply because suffering is part of the human experience. However, in K.J. Ramsey’s This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers, a reader will find a refreshing, honest, multifaceted approach to suffering—a guide that I think the church desperately needs.
I picked up this book after seeing it on a couple of different lists throughout the Internet and out of a desire to continue my own theological exploration into one of the hardest questions of Christianity: If God is good, then why is there evil and suffering in this world? (For those who like big words, this is often positioned under the word, “theodicy,” or defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.)
This Too Shall Last does not provide a comprehensive to that question, nor does it need to. That would be quite the task! But what Ramsey does is speak from her own personal experience as a person with chronic, debilitating pain, drawing on the Bible, neuroscience, psychology, and theology to provide an honest and helpful look into suffering as part of one’s life with Christ.
Not only did I find this book incredibly encouraging, but I also felt like it caused me to realize my own bad theology about suffering throughout the years—some of which I’ve moved past and some which I still am holding on to. I wish I would’ve had this book last year in a season of great darkness, doubt, and loneliness, but I feel grateful to have it now and I look forward to returning to its chapters again. Since Ramsey is a therapist, I found the incorporation of research about trauma, shame, memory, and brain function to be incredibly interesting and helpful. It was also interesting for me to come across some things I’ve heard my own therapist say, and remind myself of things we need to continue to unpack in future sessions.
I would recommend this book to anyone who feels like they do not have a great grasp on why we suffer and how to help those that are suffering, including ourselves and people very near to us. Ramsey is a beautiful writer whose prose are poetic much of the time, but never unclear. I found myself underlining a lot of sentences in the book and writing little notes like “important reminder! “key point!” and “a challenge for me.” I think the chapter about sharing our suffering with our community was so valuable for me to read, and also a great challenge to take up and continue pursuing. I agree with Ramsey when she writes, “Suffering must be shared, witnessed, and heard to be experienced as the fertile soil of Christ’s kingdom, the ground where God comes to find and remake us.“
I’ve collected some of my favorite quotes from the book, but I highly recommend you just read it for yourself. It’s not very long, and is broken up into distinct chapters about various aspects of suffering and how those are aided by different character traits of Christ and the church.
“The wounds of suffering require dressing we can’t apply or change on our own. the story of love can’t be lived with a spoken truth but hidden hurt. God is moving us from hiding to honest, from naked to clothed, from ashamed and alone in singular stories to attached and amazed in a shared story of his solidarity with suffering and his unending commitment to redeem us in love.”
“Right in the middle of the Word of God [the Psalms], we find that radical honesty about the true state of our souls created beautiful remembrance that God relates to us with overflowing love. […] In the fellowship of the Psalms, inadequacy becomes the nativity of intimacy.”
“I wonder how much encouragement we might all be missing by treating each other’s suffering like an awkward subject to avoid rather than a normal experience to share.”
“What many Christians have forgotten about the Incarnation is that our redemption began with the Incarnation. It is Jesus’ willingness to be born, to be dependent, to be embodied that forms the substance of our faith. The cross has to carry something. Jesus’ real body is what forms our real hope.”
“Jesus’ life is not just an example. The 33 years he walked the dusty ground were not simply a section of history recorded to encourage, challenge or confuse us. No, in Jesus the new power and new reality of the kingdom of God intersects human history.. The hanging noose of shame no longer has to be the end of the human story. The domain of darkness is no longer the only power at work in this world or your life.”
Learn more about K.J. Ramsey’s book here.