Monday, July 9, 2012

Paul Grimmond's, 'Suffering Well'

About our new contributor:

Alison Napier has served in fulltime ministry since 2005 in Sydney’s CBD. During that time she’s discovered the joys of high-rise living and exotic food in Chinatown. An animal lover who’s recently developed a fascination for elephants, Alison’s own pets tend to be fish or birds, as they fit best into a one-bedroom flat on the 26th floor. Having become a Christian in her second year of university, Alison delights in growing in her knowledge of and love for God day by day. An avid, but time-poor, reader she particularly enjoys any book that takes her away to another world for a few hours, if relaxing, or challenges her brain with interesting ideas, if working. Paul Grimmond’s Suffering Well falls into the latter category, and it’s a joy to share it with you this month.

Chapters 1 and 2

I’ve wanted to read this since it was published; the sad reality of life is that you could always be better equipped to help others, or yourself, cope with any number of hardships that come your way. I really enjoyed Paul’s other book, Right Side Up (my last Equip book club outing). His writing style is simple but his thoughts are not, the perfect mix of easy to read and challenging to think about. This book promises more of the same. The back cover raised my curiosity instantly, it was disconcerting to think that a theologian who’s ‘expert’ enough to write a book finds his thinking on a fundamental topic to be out of step with the Bible’s teaching. That’s the beauty of the Bible though; it’s a living God-breathed word that always teaches us surprising new things as we study it in depth.

The first chapter indicates right from the start that the material in Paul’s book will be unsettling, teaching that the verses: ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’ mean it’s better to die of cancer at 17 than to endure verbal persecution and give up on the faith! These lines tell the lazy reader who’s looking for easy answers to suffering to look elsewhere, and the rest of us better prepare for more confronting ideas. I like it that Paul Grimmond doesn’t promise us a remedy to suffering (as opposed to many other Christian writers) but inoculation against it. This is quite a promise in itself, and at this stage I’m wondering what it will be.

At the end of the first chapter Paul outlines everyone’s choice in life: we can be prisoners of our age or slaves to biblical truth. A wealth of ideas is summed up in just this phrase. Chapter two extends this ability of Paul’s to encapsulate complex ideas in an economy of words. And here I encounter another surprise: I thought we were going next to biblical theology (lazy reader that I am), but instead we examine culture. I had a light-bulb moment as he described a phenomenon I’d observed but not analysed: the idea that avoiding pain and suffering is the new moral basis for our society. It’s true isn’t it? ‘What makes me happy’ is the ultimate end of self-centredness, and this thinking has turned from being merely desirable, to being a right! This explains our current ‘marriage equality’ debates perfectly: access to marriage is a moral issue for the gay lobby and I could not work out why. (I saw it as a moral issue for entirely different reasons.) Page 28 clarifies: ‘In our brave new world God is immoral and Christians are immoral’, morality has well and truly been turned on its head! Reading the Bible through the blinkers of cultural perspective, rather than reading our culture through the Bible certainly describes my experience as I first investigated Christianity. It took several years for the revolution in me to take place, and I’m sure I’ve not yet totally kicked that habit.

These were my main thoughts while reading the first two chapters of Suffering Well. It was a thorough work-out for the brain, and I’m left with a few questions to be tested and explored as the book continues. Paul claims in chapter one that the Bible calls us to suffer well. Is this really true? Or do we just endure it? Is suffering really essential? That’s the scary thought offered to us by this book, I’m not sure I want to find out the answer to that! 

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