Chapter One: When Tragedy Strikes
by Elizabeth de Barros
“Trials come in all sizes and shapes, targeting our conscience,
our hopes and dreams, our expectation of how life works,
our confidence in God and His purposes.”
— Michael Horton
Feels like forever since I first proposed the idea of hosting an online book discussion. Just needed some time to stir up interest, give everyone a chance to purchase their book, and actually do some reading. Now, here we are! I’m so glad you’ve decided to join the discussion. Got my cuppa Darjeeling, virtual coffee’s hot, let’s get started…
In his book, A Place for Weakness (Zondervan 2006), Michael Horton opens the first chapter, “When Tragedy Strikes,” by opening his heart. He plucks at the reader’s heartstrings by sharing the harrowing account of watching his aged father waste away in less than a year from the ravaging effects of a brain tumor. Before his eyes, the stoic giant he knew and loved had deteriorated to the level of a helpless infant, only pitifully so.
With the compounded loss of his dad, his mother’s health problems, and the grief shared with his wife after the couple’s multiple miscarriages, I venture Horton felt a little more than astounded at all he had to endure. And perhaps as helpless as his father, too, if not pitiful in his own right. Only difference being that Horton was still on this side of eternity, now left to grapple with the big questions.
In the face of human suffering, whether because of emotional distress, a seemingly senseless tragedy or debilitating chronic illness, Horton presents a theological framework for delving into the tough questions: Is God good? Does God care? Why do some people suffer so much in their death? Why is death often so slow and painful? He argues that theology is best learned apart from when being tossed about in the storm, when “the wounds are too open to the elements.” Perspective is scarce then. Aside from the need for practical care and friends with listening ears, he says, “Theology is the most serious business.”
But perhaps most supportive to the premise of the book, Horton comforts with these words:
Even if we do not have a lot of sound teaching to fall back on, we can be comforted by the truth of God’s grace in the middle of it all and learn, or be reconfirmed in, a few marvelous promises, even in the valley of the shadow of death.” (pp. 20-21)
As soon as I began reading, I couldn’t help but recall the years when my own father’s health began to decline. The gravity that hung on me, aware of the despair and sense of failure that gripped him — and how his smiling Irish eyes went from a soft grey to one degree away from wild was a weight of significant dread. For this bear of a man, suffering the blows of stage IV renal failure came with one indignity after another. Dialysis treatment represented the beginning of a five-year losing battle and was what finally wore him out. He was like a bug caught under the light of God’s eternal gaze with no strength left to escape. But Mercy is divine, and when doctors fully expected him to pass from this world, he rallied another ten days, where Grace led him to a state of utter physical and spiritual surrender. Indeed, God had the last word. At his funeral, the gospel went forth to the sound of bagpipes and a setting sun.
This chapter solidified what I had learned from those difficult years of watching my father diminish under the crush of disease and despair. I learned that God is a redemptive God. And with all due respect, I learned that God will not be mocked, though His mercy is very great. He squeezes every ounce of glory for Himself out of a life, in His way and in His time, not a minute sooner — or later. He truly is Lord of all.
“On one side are counselors so concerned to clear God of charges that they underplay the element of complaint to which even the psalmist gave eloquent voice — the blues of the Bible. On the other side are those who sentimentalize suffering and defend the sufferer at the expense of the only One whose sovereignty and goodness can provide transcendent solace.” (p. 18)
“Now it was all being put to the test of real life.”
“Understanding who God is, who we are, and God’s ways in creation, providence, and redemption — at least as much as Scripture reveals to us — is to the trials of life what preparing for the LSAT is to the practice of law.” (p. 19)
“And so we need to learn from God’s Word how to meet trials, apart from which more tough times will only tend to reinforce what we already believe, whether it’s good or bad theology.” (p. 21)
How did the first chapter read for you? What did you learn? Reflect on?
Please share your thoughts, insights, questions or favorite excerpts in ftm’s comment section. Of course, if you’d rather simply listen, that’s fine, too.
Things to know:
- If your comment is in response to one of the chapter questions in the back of the book, please make a brief note. For example, if you’re answering question 2 of Chapter 1, a quick “Q#2” will cue readers as to what you’re talking about.
- If you’re offering a view contrary to that of the author’s or that of another commenter, please offer Scriptural reasoning. Our goal is to edify the group by holding to Biblical integrity throughout the six-week discussion.
- Feel free to post a link to your own site if you left a comment there.
FOR NEXT WEEK
Read Chapter 2: “Good News for Losers”