Russ Ramsey, a pastor I had never heard of before, was diagnosed with cancer years ago. His journey he documents in the new release Struck: One Christian’s Reflections On Encountering Death (InterVarsity Press, 2017) in which he recounts ways in which God helped him through this time as well as ways in which God was silent and far off. The author tracks his depression and doubt during this time as well as triumphs in God. As Ramsey writes, “This is a book about what happens when affliction and faith collide” (p. 18)

Struck provides rugged hope for all, not a “hallmark” card or chicken soup for the soul type of hope, but rather the type which may admit defeat, a hope in which the sufferer may be crushed. (This is not a Joel Osteen type of hope.) A hope in which the victim may be dismayed by what’s happening and yet in the midst of this darkness and doubt maintains a stubborn trust in God. This type of hope is not triumphalistic and is not superficial; it’s rugged, it’s messy, it’s biblical.

Throughout the book various authors are alluded to, from classics like C.S. Lewis to G.K. Chesterton all the way to Annie Dillard who Ramsey quotes as saying, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck” (p. 20, bold mine).

Besides providing hope for those suffering through terminal illness, this book also counters our anti-suffering culture which views all suffering as having absolutely no benefits. Of course such a notion is contra Christ and what he was all about (us carrying our cross daily is not about us being stuff in traffic). I applaud the balance maintained through this book as it doesn’t scream at those suffering “just have faith!” and nor does it communicate that God is outside the picture of our suffering, passively looking upon us in our torment. Struck stresses to sufferers that their suffering is indeed real, and yet (at the same time) God is there with the sufferer. In this way Ramsey does not downplay the realness of suffering and yet does not let that realness overshadow the reality that God does not leave his suffering children.

These types of books need to be written more as they counter a Western anti-suffering attitude that is indeed at odds with the cruciform message and call of Jesus. While Christ tells us that in order to follow him we must carry a cross (=a shame-filled symbol reserved for the lowest of the low) daily, we live in a culture which goes out of its way to prevent any type of inconvenience (any discomfort seems to be regarded as anathema).

Personally this book awoke me to those important things in my life that I overlook and take for granted, mainly to live each day enjoying the presence of my wife and son rather than let life put me under the spell of consumerism and busyness. That said, the biggest factor for me was that I couldn’t “connect” with the book simply due to the style. Though this is true of me, perhaps it won’t be for other readers.

*I was provided with a free copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for an honest assessment