Pain and suffering are part of the human experience that modern society tries its best to avoid. Most people are afraid of suffering and desire to get through it as quickly as possible when it comes. Yet, pain and suffering will come to all people, even followers of Christ. It is not if, but when difficult times come. The important part is not how to avoid pain and suffering, but how best to navigate it when it comes, which is what Ligon Duncan discusses in his new book When Pain is Real, and God Seems Silent (Crossway, 2020).
Originally preached as two separate sermons at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Duncan combined the material into a book on suffering, as seen in the Psalms. His text focus is on Psalm 88 and 89. Both of these Psalms deal with the problem of pain and suffering. Psalm 88 deals with personal suffering, whereas Psalm 89 is focused on communal suffering. The Psalms provide a unique perspective on pain and suffering because they deal with the full gamut of human emotion in a raw and real way. The reader can feel the pain of the Psalmist as they express their anguish in writing.
Duncan does an excellent job of walking through both Psalms with sound exegesis and personal application for a modern context. He reminds the reader, by way of the Psalms, that it is perfectly acceptable to express anger and hurt to the Lord, for He is big enough to handle human hurt and pain. Duncan reminds the reader that the Lord is sovereign, especially amid pain and suffering, and can be trusted to walk with hurting and downtrodden, no matter what happens in life.
Duncan points the reader back to the gospel over and over as the source of comfort during times of suffering. Jesus himself, while on earth, walked through pain and suffering in a very real way. His death and resurrection provide hope for times of difficulty. He not only can relate to human emotion and experience; he is setting all things right through the work of the cross. This is an important truth; believers in Christ do not suffer without hope.
When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent is an extremely encouraging read. It is soaked with the gospel and is an excellent reminder of the hope found in Jesus through pain and suffering. I would recommend this resource to people who are walking through suffering and for church leaders who are looking for an encouraging resource to use in their congregation regarding this topic.