Seminary professors, ministry leaders, and medical professionals deliver theological reflections on suffering with real-world application, all with an aim to train Christians in ministering to those who hurt.
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About the Author
Larry J. Waters (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary and the lead editor of the journal Bibliotheca Sacra. He served as a missionary in the Philippines from 1973 to 1999, and is now a missionary with Biblical Education by Extension, representing the Philippines. Larry also serves as a member of the Bibliotheca Sacra Editorial Advisory Committee. He and his wife, Mary, have two daughters and five grandchildren.
Roy B. Zuck (1932–2013) taught for over twenty-three years as the senior professor emeritus of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary. He also served as the vice president for academic affairs and the academic dean. He wrote or edited more than ninety books and scores of articles, and long served as editor of Bibliotheca Sacra.
Randy Alcorn (MA, Multnomah University) is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books. His books have sold over nine million copies and been translated into nearly seventy languages. Alcorn resides in Gresham, Oregon, with his wife, Nanci. They have two married daughters and five grandsons.
Joni Eareckson Tada is founder and CEO of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, which ministers to thousands of disabled people and their families through programs of practical encouragement and spiritual help. She is also an artist and the author of numerous best-selling books such as Joni; Heaven: Your Real Home; and When God Weeps.
Read an Excerpt
Joni Eareckson Tada
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Greg Barshaw, an elder at the Grace Community Church in Southern California, received a phone call one day from a neighboring pastor. This pastor and Greg often studied the Bible together over coffee in the mornings. The pastor said, "Greg, a friend in my church has a little boy with multiple disabilities, and I'm wondering if your church would want to help this mom and dad and young boy." Greg thought it was a good idea. He would be happy to reach out to this family. But then, when he pressed the pastor further, he realized that additional issues were involved. Then the pastor said, "To be honest, Greg, I'm afraid one day this father will walk into my study, slam his fist on my desk, and say, 'Tell me why God has cursed me with a son with multiple disabilities? How is it that God has done this?' I have no idea how I would answer him."
Greg realized that this pastor had an issue with the theology of suffering and that he was not sure how he would address that family's needs. One can understand that pastor's fear. God's sovereignty is sometimes scary. Sometimes a person wakes up in the middle of the night — even as I do right now with chronic pain that is related to my disability — and he thinks, Who is this God?
Does God say, "Into each life a little rain must fall," and then aim a hose in earth's general direction to see who gets the wettest? That's what I thought when I was first injured. When I took that deep dive into shallow water, I thought that my spinal-cord injury was a flip of the coin. I thought it was a fluke of fate. I thought if God had anything to do with it, he was caught off guard. Perhaps he was off somewhere listening to the prayers of more obedient saints. Or perhaps he was in the Middle East fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe he was listening to the prayers of people with cancer.
I did not know where God was, but I assumed he was not on that raft when I took that dive. I figured that Satan probably was the one who came sneaking up behind me while God had his back turned, and Satan gave a big hard shove with his foot, and off I went. And then God turned around, saw what had happened, and responded, "Oh, my! How will I patch things up for this girl's good and my glory?"
And then I imagined God had to go get his WD-40 and his fix-it glue and come back and scratch his head and try to figure out how he could fix my situation. I assumed God had been caught off guard when Satan threw a monkey wrench into his plans for my life. A view like that may have been the view of a seventeen-year-old girl lying on a Stryker frame, frustrated, frightened, embittered. But a view like that says that God is helpless and is held hostage by my handicap, just as I was.
I realized, though, that God was bigger than that. I had enough sense to know that the Bible probably has answers for my plight somewhere, but I had no idea where to look. I had no idea where to turn.
After I got out of the hospital, a young man knocked on my door. He was a sophomore from the local high school where I had graduated. He knew I had some tough questions about God. He did not have all the answers, but he said he was willing to help me in a Bible study, and he would assist me in tackling the tough questions about why this happened. And when he told me he would be willing to do that, the very first thing I did was ask him straight on, "How can this be God's will?"
Just a year earlier Steve had prayed that God would draw me closer to him. So how could this be an answer to that prayer? If this is the way God treats his believers, especially young believers, he would never be trusted with another prayer again. How could any of this be God's will? That was a good question forty years ago, when I broke my neck, and it is still a good question today.
Many are asking the same question. They may not have broken necks. But some of them have broken hearts, and others have broken homes. Some are experiencing hardships that have ripped into their sanity, leaving them numb and bleeding, and they too ask, "God, how can this be your will?"
Steve said a very wise thing to me. "Look, Joni — think of Jesus Christ. He was the most God-forsaken man who ever lived. And if we can find answers for his life, they should be able to suffice for your life. So, Joni, let me turn your question around. Do you think it was God's will for Jesus to suffer as he did? Do you think it was his will for Jesus to go to the cross?"
"Well," I thought, "that's a stupid question. Of course it was God's will for Jesus to go to the cross."
And then he said something curious. "I want you to look at all the awful things that happened to Jesus on that cross. No doubt it was the Devil who inspired Judas Iscariot to hand over the Savior for a mere thirty pieces of silver. And no doubt Satan prodded Pontius Pilate to hand down mock justice in order to gain political popularity. And no doubt it was the Devil who inspired that mob to scream for Christ's crucifixion. And no doubt it was the Devil who pushed those soldiers to torture Jesus. How can any of that be God's will: treason, injustice, murder, torture?" He had me there, because I could not conceive of those things being part of God's will.
But then Steve did an interesting thing. He turned to and read Acts 4:28. "They" — that is, Herod and Pontius Pilate, the mob in the streets, and the soldiers — "did what [God's] power and will had decided beforehand should happen" (niv). And the world's worst murder suddenly became the world's only salvation.
God did not violate the will of the people who did those awful things. The sin was in their hearts. God permits all sorts of things he does not approve of. He lets out the rope so that they might fulfill their evil plans and wicked schemes. Perhaps the Devil thought, I will stop God's Son dead in his tracks. No more of this ridiculous talk about redemption. But God's motive was to abort that devilish scheme and throw open the floodgates of heaven so that whoever will may come to him. God always aborts devilish schemes to serve his own ends and accomplish his own purposes.
"Joni," my friend Steve said to me, "God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves." Heaven and hell can end up participating in the exact same event but for different reasons. Ephesians 1:11 puts it plainly: God "according to [his] purpose ... works all things according to the counsel of his will." I found strange comfort in that thought. I believe it was Dorothy Sayers who said, "God wrenches out of evil positive good for us and glory for Himself." In other words, he redeems it.
God redeems suffering. The God of life is the only one who can conquer death by embracing it. And so death no longer has the victory, and neither does suffering. Christ has given it meaning, not only for salvation but also for sanctification, and that is the best part. It tells us we are no longer alone in our hardships, our disabilities. Our suffering is not a flip of the coin; it is not a fluke of fate. We are not in the middle of some divine cosmic accident. No, our suffering can be redeemed. Oh, the wonder of such a thought that it is all for our sanctification, our relationship with him, and our witness to a world in need of redemption.
God will often permit suffering, just as he is allowing it in my life. After forty years of quadriplegia, with my chronic pain and now shortness of breath, I can say, God will permit that broken heart. God will permit that broken home. God will permit that broken neck. Suffering then is like a sheep dog snapping at my heels, driving me down the road to Calvary, where otherwise I might not naturally be inclined to go.
God is the one who takes suffering like a jackhammer and breaks apart the rocks of resistance. He takes the chisel of the pain and the bite of hardship and chips away at one's pride. And then sufferers are driven to the cross by the overwhelming conviction that they have nowhere else to go. No one is naturally drawn to the cross. Human instincts do not naturally lead people there.
This may well be the most important reason every church needs a disability ministry in its congregation. People with disabilities, unlike others, are driven to the cross by the overwhelming conviction that they have no other place to go. That is eventually what happened to the father of that little boy with multiple disabilities.
The father came to realize that God allowed this in his life. God brought this child into their family so that that family might be united around the cross of Jesus Christ, that they might find help in time of need, that they might find strength in their weakness. People with disabilities may well be God's best audiovisual aids of these powerful truths to the rest of the congregation. Disabled people are audiovisual aids on how suffering should be handled. People who are suffering always have something to say to those who are facing lesser conflicts.
Let me give you an example. If you listen to the Joni and Friends radio program or read our materials, you know that we hold retreats all across the country for families affected by disabilities. This year we will hold twenty-two retreats serving almost three thousand disabled children, adults, and other family members. Just before one of these retreats, I was glancing over the registration cards of the people who would be attending. I came across the name Karla Larson, and when I read the description of her disability, I was amazed. She had lost both of her legs. She was legally blind. She had suffered a heart attack, had had a kidney transplant, and had lost three fingers. I thought, Oh, my. I'd better meet this woman. I could not believe that she would be strong enough to make it to our family retreat.
When I wheeled up to Karla Larson, excited to meet her, I said, "Karla, I'm so glad you were able to come. I'm so surprised you're here." She replied, "Well, Joni, I thought I'd better come before I lose any more body parts." Obviously this woman had not lost her sense of humor. And she had such a fabulous time at our family retreat. We had five days of fun, inspiration, Bible studies, wheelchair square dancing, wheelchair zip lines, wheelchair disco — it was such fun.
After the retreat Karla wrote me a thank-you note, tied to the toe of one of her plastic prosthetic legs. She sent me her foot in the mail. And the note read, "Dear Joni, since all of me cannot be with all of you all of the time, part of me will have to do." Observing that woman — a double amputee, missing her fingers, legally blind, with a kidney transplant — I learned something about God.
What I learned is that perhaps the greatest good that suffering can work for a believer is to increase his or her capacity for God. The greater one's need, the greater will be his capacity. And the greater the capacity, the greater will be one's experience of the Savior. Karla is a good example of how people can embrace their sufferings, knowing that God's power will always show up in their weakness.
This is what disability ministry is all about. It is less about helping poor unfortunates. It is less about blessing them. And it is more about them blessing the "nondisabled." It is more about the way people think of what their weaknesses are to do for them. People like Karla should remind believers how suffering "works" in their lives. According to 1 Corinthians 12:22, "The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."
In the body of Christ we often admire the hands, feet, eyes, and lips, and all the showy, up-front gifts — the attractive parts. I tend to think Karla Larson would make a good pancreas in the body of Christ. Not very comely, not very attractive to look at. In fact, people do not even talk about the pancreas, but the body cannot survive without it. The body can survive without use of the hands. I can prove that. The body can survive without the use of the feet. I can prove that too. But the body cannot survive without a pancreas.
This is why weaker members are indispensable. People who are weak, people like Karla Larson, showcase Titus 2:7: "Show yourself ... to be a model of good works." They set an example by doing what is good; they showcase the Lord's ability to others. They sustain those who face lesser conflicts.
If the grace of God can sustain a woman who is a double amputee and half blind, or if God's grace can sustain a quadriplegic who deals with chronic pain, then everyone ought to be boasting in his affliction, delighting in his infirmity. As sufferers rejoice in their weaknesses, they can then boast that Christ's power is made manifest in them.
People's disabilities can be the best embodiment of these marvelous truths from God's Word. Disability ministry is a ministry of redemption. If the cross can be seen not as a symbol of torture but as a symbol of hope and life, then a wheelchair can be "redeemed" from a symbol of confinement to a representation of an intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
If someone looks at a person like Karla and thinks, "I could never handle suffering like hers," or if someone looks at me and thinks, "I could never be a quadriplegic like you," then maybe that person needs to read 1 Peter 2:21: "To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
Karla is now in heaven. Her disabilities finally took over, and she lost a few too many body parts. But I know she's rejoicing in heaven. No more intimate, sweeter fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ can ever be realized than through suffering. God shares his joy on his terms, and those terms call for believers to suffer in some measure as his precious Son suffered when he was here on earth. And the union and the sweetness of intimacy with the Savior is priceless.
So disability is ministry. It is not an off-to-the-side, nice ministry to pitiable, poor unfortunates who need help. Rather, disability ministry is an up-front, in-your-face demonstration of these valuable lessons. It is a means of showcasing redemption to everyone, helping them learn how to respond to their own afflictions as well as helping them understand God's motives in their suffering.
When my accident happened, maybe the Devil's motive was to shipwreck the faith of that young, seventeen-year-old girl. Maybe he wanted to use her to make a mockery out of God's goodness. Maybe he hoped to defame God's sweet character. But remember, God is in the business of aborting devilish schemes. And God's motive in my accident was to abort that devilish scheme and turn a headstrong, stubborn, rebellious teenager into a woman who can reflect something of his patience, something of his perseverance, something of his endurance, something of his character. And after forty years in a wheelchair, I can say that my own suffering has lifted me out of my spiritual slumber. It has got me seriously thinking about the lordship of Christ in my life. It has helped convince this skeptical, cynical world that my God is worth trusting. It has shown me that we can be loyal to him despite our afflictions and infirmities, that disability ministry should have priority in the church, and that heaven is real.
And my suffering has shown me that there are more important things in life than walking and using your hands. Most of all, it has shown me that Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, saves and sanctifies through suffering. And the wonderful part is that a person does not have to break his or her neck to believe it.CHAPTER 2
A Biblical Disability-Ministry Perspective
Daniel R. Thomson
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Disability ministry is not disability ministry until the disabled are ministering.
— JONI EARECKSON TADA
Chuck Jones, a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate of the class of 1984 (MABS) and 1992 (ThM), has recently been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). This is a degenerative motor neurological disease that results in progressive weakening of the entire body, ending in paralysis and eventual death. It is a brutal, relentless disease with no known cure. When Chuck was first officially diagnosed, his neurologist insisted that he join a local Lou Gehrig's secular support group. Chuck's initial reply was noteworthy, "I don't want to go there right now to learn how to die. I'd rather initially be with fellow Christians who have ALS to learn how to live!" Unfortunately no such group was known to exist.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Why, O God?"
Copyright © 2011 Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Randy Alcorn, 9,
Part 1 Challenge and Need,
1 Redeeming Suffering JONI EARECKSON TADA, 15,
2 A Biblical Disability-Ministry Perspective DANIEL R. THOMSON, 23,
3 Church-Based Disability Ministries JESSICA JAMES BALDRIDGE, 39,
4 Disabilities and the Church MICHAEL A. JUSTICE, 55,
5 The Rolling Throne GREGORY A. HATTEBERG, 69,
Part 2 Biblical Foundations,
6 Suffering in the Pentateuch STEPHEN J. BRAMER, 87,
7 Suffering in the Historical Books STEPHEN J. BRAMER, 99,
8 Suffering in the Book of Job LARRY J. WATERS, 111,
9 Suffering in the Psalms and Wisdom Books RONALD B. ALLEN, 127,
10 Suffering in the Writing Prophets (Isaiah to Malachi) STEPHEN J. BRAMER, 147,
11 A Biblical Theology of Suffering in the Gospels MARK L. BAILEY, 161,
12 Suffering in Acts and the Pauline Epistles STANLEY D. TOUSSAINT, 183,
13 Suffering in the Non-Pauline Epistles JAMES E. ALLMAN, 195,
14 Suffering in the Book of Revelation THOMAS L. CONSTABLE, 207,
Part 3 Theology, Pastoral Ministry, and Missions,
15 Receiving Evil from God DOUGLAS K. BLOUNT, 217,
16 Pastoral Care and Disability VICTOR D. ANDERSON, 231,
17 Global Suffering JAMES A. NEATHERY, 245,
Part 4 Counseling and Professional Services,
18 Dealing with Disabilities in Adults AMY J. WILSON, 259,
19 Children with Disabilities PATRICIA EVANS, 269,
20 Bioethics and Suffering RICHARD L. VOET, 281,
21 Death and Dying LINDA M. MARTEN, 297,
Part 5 Conclusion,
22 Wheelchairs in Heaven? JONI EARECKSON TADA, 315,
General Index, 325,
Scripture Index, 329,
What People are Saying About This
“Who doesn’t ask why? It is the question we all consider. I am grateful for this biblical and personal approach to suffering which will minister love and healing to the body of Christ.”
Jack Graham, pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church; Former President, Southern Baptist Convention
“It has been said that suffering is the most common denominator among humans. Whether you are one of the 660 million people worldwide affected by disability, or your suffering takes another form, you’ve probably asked the question, ‘Why, God?’ Here is a book that addresses the difficult issues surrounding suffering and disabilities. I commend Waters and Zuck, and the other contributors, for powerfully calling the church to provide a biblical response to suffering and to point people to Christ.”
Steve Bundy,Managing Director, Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability
“This is the most comprehensive biblical theology on the mystery of human suffering I have ever read. Illustrated by deeply moving experiences from the lives of many of its authors, it can easily be adopted for effective public teaching.”
David C. Cotten,Pastor of Senior Adults, Edmond Faith Bible Church; Retired Vice President for Student Services, Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary
“Sadly, ministry to the disabled within our churches is a much-neglected area. This book rightly identifies it as a priority that demands our thoughtful response. Yet never before has a single book combined such a rich harmony of insights from scholars across so many disciplines, ranging from biblical studies to the medical field. It reminds us, too, that disabled believers have an important ministry to the non-disabled in the church as bearing witness to the grace of God who redeems all our sufferings with a loving purpose. This book will serve as a valuable resource in churches, colleges, and seminaries for years to come.”
Gary Cook,President, Dallas Baptist University
“The question as to why righteous individuals suffer is as old as the days of Job. Why, O God? first faces the problem biblically, searching the Scriptures to find God’s perspective on suffering. Then it faces the problem experientially, as many who have seriously suffered share their stories to show the sufficiency of God’s grace and what they learned from their sufferings. A study of the first will provide a foundation for understanding of suffering, and a study of the second will be an encouragement to all who suffer because they bear testimony of the grace of God. This balanced approach provides a work that will answer many questions as to why the righteous suffer, and it is highly recommended.”
J. Dwight Pentecost,Distinguished Professor of Bible Exposition, Emeritus, Dallas Theological Seminary
“What a wonderful book! Waters and Zuck have uniquely addressed the problem of suffering through the testimonies of those who have suffered and the lessons God has taught them. The wisdom of these fellow pilgrims is thoroughly buttressed with profound biblical studies by seminary professors, giving us needed insight into the question why. Any pastor or counselor will benefit from reading thismost of all, anyone who suffers or who knows someone who does. Highly recommended!”
Joseph Dillow,Former President, BEE World; Founder, Internet Biblical Seminary
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Why, O God?" addresses issues on the challenge and need in Suffering and Disability considering the issue from Biblical foundations, Theology, Pastoral ministry, Missions, Counselling, Professional Services. The book is a result of a course that Daniel Thomson and Dr. Larry Waters developed over 2 years ago on ¿The Theology of Suffering and Disability and the Church.¿ Dr. Waters describes that the main thesis of the book revolves around what we believe are weaknesses in many churches, and the Christian community as a whole, concerning a proper application and biblical response to suffering and disability. For the most part the Church today is failing to properly present the biblical view of suffering, and is not involved in developing a ministry for the disabled and then involving them in their ministry. ¿There is no disability or suffering ministry until the disabled and suffering are ministering.¿Dr. Waters notes that a number of people in the Christian community can benefit from the book: Pastors, missionaries, counsellors, healthcare workers, parents who have children with disabilities, spouses who have a wife or husband suffering from a physical or mental disability, teachers in all areas of ministry. The book even deals with the issues of why Christians suffer and why does evil exist. The diversity of the topics in the 22 chapters allows for a varied appeal to readers.This book is unique in many ways including the fact that it aims at much more than appealing to certain people, but strives for specific responses. Dr. Waters envisions five specific responses: 1). Make the church aware of its need to minister to and involve the disabled in their ministries. 2). Give a biblical foundation for understanding the existence of suffering, how suffering is used by the Lord, and how we can respond biblically both individually and collectively to the problem of pain and suffering. 3). Comfort for those who are suffering. 4). Encouragement to those who have struggle so long and so hard to start a disability and suffering ministry in their church. 5). Encourage other institutions of learning to use this book as a text or suggested text for a similar course on ¿A Theology of Suffering and Disability.¿The list of qualified contributors is impressive: Larry J. Waters (Editor), Roy B. Zuck (Editor), Randy Alcorn (Foreword), Joni Eareckson Tada (Contributor), Ronald B. Allen (Contributor), James E. Allman (Contributor), Victor D. Anderson (Contributor), Mark L. Bailey (Contributor), Jessica James Baldridge (Contributor), Douglas K. Blount (Contributor), Stephen J. Bramer (Contributor), Thomas L. Constable (Contributor), Patricia Evans (Contributor), Greg A. Hatteberg (Contributor), Michael A. Justice (Contributor), Linda M. Marten (Contributor), James A. Neathery (Contributor), Daniel R. Thomson (Contributor), Stanley D. Toussaint (Contributor), Richard L. Voet (Contributor), Amy J. Wilson (Contributor). They are qualified in the fact that they have dealt with their own disability (Joni Erickson Tada) or are the care giver for someone who is disabled (Gregory Hatteberg for his wife Lisa). Wisdom is truly reflected in their writings as some who has experienced what they are writing about and care deeply about those dealing with these situations. They are no strangers to suffering and not content to just share experience. Their writings are rich in Biblical reflections showing both accuracy and breadth of Biblical subject matter from the person of God Himself to His sovereign care.This excellent tome is no mere formula to "cure or care" for people, but treats the issue of disability and suffering in the full orbed Kingdom perspective. "Why, O God?" does not merely deal with suffering and disability in the Bible and Church, but shows how God redeems suffering (Eph. 1:11) and how the Church is called on to show this fact in both word and deed.