Book Review: “The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope”

The Problem of SufferingThe Problem of Suffering by Gregory P. Schula

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[This introduction of the “The Problem of Suffering” is taken from our congregation’s newsletter under the section heading “From Pastor’s Bookshelf.]

Of all the books I have read this year this month’s selection from my bookshelf is likely the first one I would pick to reread before year end. In fact I might just do that, but admittedly there is a part of me that does not want to reread it. I do not want to because The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope is a book that does not dodge some of the most painful experiences one can imagine suffering. It does not take mercy on its readers by sparing them from feeling the despair of loss. Author Gregory P. Schultz in beautifully written prose and poetry unleashes the depths of a father crushed by suffering and death.

This book is Gregory’s meditation on the deaths of his one year old daughter and fourteen year old son. Most importantly it is his meditation on Christ in the midst of sorrow. He does not aim to make a theodicy or in other words a philosophy on the problem of suffering or evil. He does not come to tidy conclusions that leave no room for sadness, anger, or doubt. Rather, he speaks from the experience of suffering and shares it openly with those who are willing to hear.

While there is a part of me that does not want to read this book again anytime soon (as I shed my fair share of tears hearing of his family’s suffering) there’s another part of me that wants and needs to read this book. Gregory understands the comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way only one who has suffered much in this vale of tears is able to.

As he puts it “We preach Christ crucified, not suffering justified.” Any attempts to find meaning in suffering apart from Christ’s death and resurrection for broken humanity will end in despair. There are too many contradictions, dead ends, and paradoxes to presume we can answer with finality why we suffer at a particular moment or in a particular way. Yet, if we follow Christ on the path to the cross and the empty tomb we will find God’s answer satisfies in ways philosophies and cliché platitudes can not. That does not mean the path won’t be easy. That’s why Lutherans call what Gregory describes the Theology of the Cross. That is that God’s goodness is seen and found in suffering; most especially in the suffering of His Son Jesus. Gregory takes you on his journey towards his own cross in the death of his two beloved children, but his journey begins and ends with all Christians at the cross and empty grave of God’s beloved Son.

With All Saints Sunday upon us I could not think of a better book to consider at the moment. One chapter of this book is dedicated to the power in the Word and the Sacraments to help us in our grief and likewise how they bring us true joy. Gregory teaches us how the living Christ we receive in the Divine Service is the same Christ whom all dead Christians now live before in His eternal peace and glory. The same presence in body and blood that you receive at the altar is the same Christ the Saints in heaven worship and adore. Together, the Church in heaven and on earth await Christ’s second coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

I hope you might consider reading this small book. It is not an easy read because it is painful in parts, but it is also comforting because it proclaims the truth of the gospel of Christ. It will be helpful to you whether or not you have suffered greatly like the author. Ultimately, I believe and hope it will bring you closer to the heart of your Savior Jesus who promises you His peace in your suffering.

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