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Two Approaches to Suffering

I’m am currently reading and greatly enjoying Tullian Tchividjian’s latest book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free. In the introduction, Tullian points out two typical, and unhelpful, ways people tend to respond to suffering


1. Moralizing. This happens when we look for what we or others may have done wrong to deserve such suffering. This approach is most vividly illustrated by Job’s friends who were certain that Job must have sinned gravely to incur such pain.

2. Minimizing. Minimizing can take a lot of forms. It can be as simple as reminding a sufferer that God is working all things for their good. Though this is true, it can feel to the sufferer as if we are saying, “Don’t feel the pain so much, because it will all work out in the end.” Another way we can minimize is through what Tchividjian calls “instrumentalizing.” This approach essentially reminds the sufferer that their suffering will make them a better, stronger, or more resilient person. A third way we can minimize is when we say something like, “Compared to what others are going through, this is nothing.”


According to Tchividjian, these responses to suffering are indicative of what Luther termed “A Theology of Glory.” Tchividjian says,

“Theologies of glory” are approaches to Christianity (and to life) that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or to move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end—an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential. (27, Kindle Edition).

In other words, the first instinct of a theology of glory is to immediately look away from the sin, pain, and suffering to the glory that will come on the other side of it. When we lose a loved one, we are quick to tell ourselves they are in a better place and we’ll be with them soon. When we suffer chronic pain, we tell ourselves that God is preparing us to minister to others like us. And so on. And though one can find theological grounding for such beliefs, the point is that a theology of glory never actually allows us to see and feel the full horror of our sin and suffering. Which is precisely the place God meets us.

A theology of glory short-cuts suffering, and in so doing, ironically minimizes true glory.


Tullian contrasts this with a Theology of the Cross,

A theology of the cross, in contrast, understands the cross to be the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world on this side of heaven. A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use it. It looks directly into pain, and “calls a thing what it is” instead of calling evil good and good evil. It identifies God as “hidden in [the] suffering.” (28, Kindle Edition).

Notice that a theology of the cross “looks directly into pain, and ‘calls a thing what it is.'” It doesn’t call a thing merely a “means to glory.” It says, “This sucks. I want to die. My heart feels like it has been ripped out. I’m confused and broken and done for.”

And yet this is precisely where God is most present with the believer. In his death. On his cross. Under the crushing load of sin and suffering. For only then do we feel our truest desperation and need. Only then do cry out with a genuine cry for mercy. And only then do we truly relish to accomplishment of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

A theology of the cross fully embraces suffering, and in so doing, ironically maximizes glory.



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