Pastor Tullian signing copies of his book, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas.
Tullian Tchividjian recently visited six cities to kick off a tour that celebrates the launch of his acclaimed new book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free, published by David C. Cook. Joined by musical guests (Aaron Ivey, Michael Bleecker, 33 Miles, Finding Favour) and partners, Logos Bible Software, Food for the Hungry, and LIBERATE, Pastor Tullian offered an encouraging and disarmingly honest approach to discovering a loving God in and through our suffering.
Everyone hurts. But no one in the church wants to talk about it. Pastor Tullian admits, “The mandatory happiness that characterizes many churches produces a suffocating environment of pat, religious answers to suffering that perpetuates the pain…promoting dishonesty and mask wearing.” Suffering is more than the crises of death and disease; it is the slow burn of anxiety, addiction, stressed relationships, and pressure at the office.
Pastor Tullian preaching at The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri.
There are two ways to deal with suffering. We can go through law or through grace.
Pastor Tullian showed that when we approach suffering through the law, which is our natural inclination, we strain to maintain control by doing more and working harder. We also moralize suffering, trying to explain it and digging for “causes” because we’re convinced that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. What comes around goes around. Pastor Tullian reminded us that this response, which we often attribute to God’s judgment on our bad behavior, is not Christianity. It is Karma. It is the approach of Job’s comforters. It is not the gospel.
But when we approach suffering through grace, we recognize that Jesus has cut the chord between our behavior and God’s favor, for “while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5: 6-8). “Through Christ’s suffering,” Pastor Tullian declared, “the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, and the slave became a son.” This is very good news, indeed, and as sufferers, exactly what we need to hear.
What do we learn when we suffer? Suffering exposes our idolatry. Pastor Tullian asks his audience, “How is your present disappointment, discouragement or grief a window on what has actually captured your heart?” Stripped of our pretenses to control, we find in the crucible of our pain that we pray and lean on God more, depending on him for everything, even for our next breath. Pastor Tullian concludes, “The good news of suffering is that it brings us to the end of ourselves, there is nothing like suffering to remind us how much we need God.” And this is exactly where God intends us to be all along.
We will suffer, but God who suffered for us in his Son, Jesus Christ, will be there walking through it with us. Pastor Tullian reminds his audience, “When it comes to suffering, if we do not go to our graves in confusion we will not go to our graves trusting. Explanations are a substitute for trust.” He adds, “In our suffering, God is not giving us what we deserve, or abandoning us. He is simply there with us. And like Job, we discover that this really is enough.”
To spend the evening with Pastor Tullian is to be reminded of God’s grace, which we too often forget when we suffer, not to be given an abstract theological explanation of suffering. It is to receive comfort from a pastor who is also a fellow sufferer, and his honesty with his own struggles creates an open atmosphere where we are free to take off the masks we usually wear among other Christians in order to hide our pain, fear, and doubt.
Attendees and volunteers, City Lights Fellowship, Greenville, South Carolina.
If you suffer Pastor Tullian’s book is for you. I’ve heard the stories at each of the six events. Those who attend the event and those who volunteer to help, young or old, love Jesus, but they struggle with estranged or rebellious children and siblings or have lost loved ones to disease or suicide, are out of work, suffer from addictions, broken relationships, and fear for their future. They suffer because they can’t fix their own much less their loved ones’ problems. And they wonder why they suffer. Have they sinned? Are they being disciplined? Has God abandoned them? For these few hours, they can relax with Pastor Tullian and receive the good news that Christ has come to free the captives (Luke 4: 18), that God is for us, and that his promises are true. And that God is never closer to us than when we suffer.
And really, that is all we need.
Pastor Tullian will continue his in 2013. If your church or organization is interested in hosting this event, email The Hub at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
To purchase Glorious Ruin, go here.
Daniel A. Siedell serves on staff at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale and is curator of www.liberatenet.org, Pastor Tullian’s online resource ministry.