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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Glorious Ruin" (Tullian Tchividjian)

TITLE: Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
AUTHOR: Tullian Tchividjian
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012, (208 pages).

Another book on suffering. Rather than dispensing advice about what to do or how to go about overcoming suffering, Tchividjian reminds us once again that suffering is not about us going through hard times alone. God is with us walking with us through suffering, simply because God has been there before, and is still with us today. Beginning with his own story of pain and struggle with divorce and heartache in the family, writing the book itself becomes a painful struggle as he revisits and reinterprets what has happened in his life. A "theology of glory" is inadequate. Theodicy does not cut it. Understanding is elusive. Often, the way to deal with suffering and pain is not to work against them, but to accept them. The clue is in seeing how suffering reveals the "beginning of faith," not the end of the world.

Written in three parts, Tchividjian works through the biblical passages on Job, touching on the reality of suffering, that often, suffering is an inevitable part of life. In Part one, the author works from the meditation on Nicholas Wolterstoff's experience, and learns about God rescuing people through pain. No matter how much faith we have, no matter what kind of progress we have made, when it comes to suffering, we need to learn to accept both the "theology of glory" as well as the "theology of the cross." The latter is perhaps one of the best arguments against atheism. One of Tchividjian's observations is that legalism has made Christian living worse, and moralism in fact can produce immorality. While the law can point to a form of righteousness, only grace can inspire one toward it. What is needed is "suffering honestly." This means we cannot trivialize suffering, but to honestly call suffering as suffering. No more. No less.

Part Two moves beyond the reality of accepting suffering, and looks at two erroneous approaches on how to deal with this animal. The first approach is that of moralizing, where retribution theology reigns supreme. Good guys win, and bad guys lose kind of a theology is not only unhelpful, it is "antigospel." The author reserves some of his harshest criticisms for prosperity theology, Oprah Winfrey's brand of karma, the individualistic me-gospel, and the two-fold danger of glory theology. On the latter, the author points to two inevitable conclusions people will have to make when they suffer. First, the presence of suffering makes God out to be a liar, especially when we think God wants us to be rich, and we are not rich. Second, it makes God to be a powerless Deity against the evils of suffering. These then loads the burden and the responsibility of suffering on the sufferer. Another error is to minimize suffering, to downplay or reduce the impact of pain. When they minimize suffering, people invariably minimize the power of the gospel to heal.

Thankfully, Part Three is most redemptive. Suffering when we learn to accept it, can be a liberating experience. We are free from bondage to erroneous interpretation of the law. We are free from self-guilt inflicting. We size ourselves appropriately, not too big to puff self up or too small to humiliate oneself. Just like how God liberates Job from Job himself, from the "idol of explanation." For Tchividjian, the gospel shines when it comes to suffering. Trust rises out of the ashes of pain and confusion. Suffering frees us from idols we unwittingly accumulate in our own lives. Suffering is one way in which we are given a chance to avoid reducing the gospel to human terms. Suffering strips us of ourselves, so that we can see fully the cross of Christ.

My Thoughts

The subtitle of the book betrays the intention of a book that purports to prefer to answer the "who" question more than the "how" or the "why." That said, Tchvidjian has given a refreshing look at the reality of suffering without minimizing the human impact. At the same time, his gentle explanations prepare us to take a new look at the promises and positive lessons we can learn when we accept suffering instead of fighting against it. Suffering is real, so don't falsify it. Suffering is formidable, so do not downplay it. Suffering is part of life, so we need to deal with it. Thankfully, we need not deal with it alone. We have Christ with us always. We have freedom to deal with suffering without needing to explain away or to justify ourselves. We can be equipped with "gospel-soaked liberation" when we face suffering of all sorts. The theology of the Cross is far more promising than the theology of glory. More importantly, the presence of grace is available for all who desires. It is more precious than gold or silver.

If there is one way to describe this book, it is a freedom to embrace suffering as it is. No more. No less. Just the real deal. It is the assurance that we will not be alone. It is the comfort that because Christ has overcome, we too will overcome. In God's time.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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