When it comes to suffering, Christians do not always know how they are to respond. Are we allowed to lament in light of passages like “God working all things for the good of those who love him” and “rejoice in the Lord always?” Enter Shall Be Bright At Last, a collection of essays which seek to address this messy topic while giving voice to the pastoral side of Paul. Co-edited by respected New Testament scholar Nijay Gupta, these essays look carefully to the letters of Paul as well as offer parallels and examples of suffering in the lives of the contributors. With a commitment to avoid easy-fix answers to complex issues, Shall Be Bright At Last is great for either Bible study or personal reflection.
I was honored to have contributed, with my own chapter, “Looking to Christ: Discipleship in Suffering,” drawing on believers around the world who suffer on account of following Christ. The chapter opens with a snippet into what my own parents, both raised in communist Romania, experienced under the leadership of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. It zeroes in on Philippians 3:7-14 where Paul writes about a shift that occurred in himself (he now prizes what he used to regard as rubbish, and he now views as rubbish what he used to prize).
Other chapters from fellow contributors deal with unexpected tragedy and random suffering, the reality of mental un-health, anxiety and depression, as well as the ongoing groaning of creation (general existence in a fallen and broken world).
Below are two quotes taken from the Introduction, by Nijay Gupta:
“…for Christians, hope is not activated by a magic wand or hidden button. Hope is less a feeling and moreso a muscle that has to be exercised and put to work in order to grow stronger.”
“The book is not a definitive “solution” to the problem of suffering. …. The contributors reveal honest and tender wounds of the many harsh realities of life in a broken world awaiting full redemption. They meditate on Paul’s holy words that teach us to pray with expectation and live by faith.”
Our prayer and goal is to provide a resource that takes Paul’s words seriously, and also takes human suffering seriously. Some have turned the apostle into a stoic triumphalist who merely preaches at those undergoing hardship, someone who turns a cold shoulder to the sufferer. Our hope and prayer is that some might be introduced to the pastoral side of Paul, while finding hope and clarity in his surviving letters. The letters of Paul model for believers that it is quite possible to maintain hope in God and lament; the two are not sworn enemies!