Book Review: Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian
Title: Glorius Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: David C. Cook
Publishing Year: 2012
My Rating: 5 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)
When I first order this book for review, my main reason for choosing this particular title was because of the name of the author – Tullian Tchividjian. I have to admit, I get swept up into the hype of big name preachers and authors. Yes, it is quite superficial. However, this book’s content is so gospel-rich and intensely encouraging, you won’t care who wrote the book by the time you finish reading it. You will be too busy focusing on Christ to even notice the author’s name…
I was drawn in immediately. I began the book early one morning when I could not sleep. Little did I know that I would not be putting it down till hours later. That is not normal for me…
This book is written for those in the midst of suffering, which means most of us. What sets this book apart from others I’ve read on this topic is the reality it is willing to face – suffering exists. That seems so obvious, yet so many Christians are unwilling to accept it. Instead of admitting the suffering we face, we plaster a fake smile on our faces and try to put a positive spin on everything. What is even worse is that we feel guilty when the hurt doesn’t go away and the happiness act becomes harder to perform. You know what I am talking about, you’ve been there.
Glorious Ruin confronts us with this reality – suffering is a part of life. Even after we are saved, the suffering does not decrease. In fact, our suffering may even increase! Yet instead of instructing us to look for a silver lining, try to find a lesson in the midst of this, or to simply cheer up, Pastor Tullian reminds us that Christ is there with us in the midst of suffering. He’s not at the end of it waiting for us to get through it. He’s not above it looking down at us throwing lightning bolts of trials due to our sinful habits. No, He is the Man of sorrows acquainted with our grief, right there next us shouldering the burden.
At the heart of the issue is a theological divide that is as wide as it is deep. On one side you have what has been termed a theology of glory. “’Theologies of glory’ are approaches to Christianity (and to life) that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or to move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end—an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential.” (page 41).
The focus clearly is on me. I will face suffering because in the end I will be better. This temporary trial will all make me stronger, so I will look for the lesson God is trying to teach me, learn, and then move in victory! Or we simply try to ignore the obvious, grin and bear our way through it, thus showing how strong we really are.
“In the church, one hallmark of a theology of glory is the unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of ongoing sin and suffering and lack of ‘victory’ in Christians.” (page 76) We promote hypocrisy by demanding that everyone be happy and victorious all the time. It’s just not possible this side of heaven. We live in a fallen world. Things are not as they should be. Even our own bodies are effected by the curse of sin.
On the other side there is the theology of the cross. “A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use it. It looks directly into pain, and ‘calls a thing what it is’ instead of calling evil good and good evil. It identifies God as ‘hidden in [the] suffering.’” (page 42)
The great blessing that we do have in the midst of our pain is that at the Cross we are met with grace and mercy, not cheap platitudes and get-well-quick schemes. We are met by a Savior – one who came for the sick not the righteous. In our suffering we see layer after layer of self-righteous pride stripped away till all that is left a sinner desperately clinging to the Cross for any hope of justification.
I don’t know about you, but I find encouragement in this thought. As I read through these pages all I could think was – this is a guy who gets it! There’s freedom in admitting that I suffer. There – I said it. I suffer. I am not victorious in every sin I struggle against. I still fight against temptations I know to be sinful even when I force myself to recall the great treasure I have in Christ. I get depressed even when I remind myself of the sovereignty of God. There’s freedom in not having to put on a false veneer of outward happiness and piety that at best is skin deep. I can be who I really am, a sinner in need of God’s grace. I may never know the reason for any of my human suffering or faithless failures beyond this simple purpose. But, I know I have a Savior who knows my pain and suffers along side of me. So, I will continue on in the fight. I’ll get back up after each failure. I’ll continue to repent of sin and once again renew my courage in the Lord to fight another day knowing in the end my Lord will conquer each and every one of those sinful desires, depraved actions and false insecurities that plague my mind. Jesus shall reign! In that glorious day I’ll praise Him all the more knowing that the One who will be crowned the King of King was the same one who fought beside every step of the way in the trenches of my sinful existence.
Well, there is so much more I could write about this book. But, instead, I will let this book speak for itself. I’ll end my review with some quotations that really encouraged and challenged me. I hope they will whet your appetite enough to purchase the book for yourself.
Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is not an exhortation from above to “hang on at all costs,” or “grin and bear it” in the midst of hardship. No, the good news is that God is hanging on to you, and in the end, when all is said and done, the power of God will triumph over every pain and loss. – page 24
Certainly we have enough works on the topic already, books that attempt to explain why God allows suffering, presumably in a way that ultimately lets God off the hook. And while much smarter people than me have constructed elaborate systems in this pursuit—the fancy word for such a theory is theodicy—they are by definition exercises in speculation. To know the Why would be to grasp the mind of God, which is something none of us can do. We have enough books tackling the How. How suffering can and will transform our lives, how we can leverage pain and tragedy to make us better people. Results, results, results! Underneath this hopeful veneer, such philosophies tend to fall flat when things don’t go according to plan, when we find out that our power, especially in the face of suffering, is a lot more limited than we thought. Pain would not be pain if we could harness it for personal gain, though the tendency to attempt to do so is a universal one. Thankfully, this is not one of those philosophies either. This is not to say that How and Why are not honest questions. Of course they are! And we will explore a few common attempts to answer them. But How and Why can also be a prison. They can leave us cold and confused, just as they left Job cold and confused when his friends tried to formulate their own tedious answers. Information is seldom enough to heal a wounded heart. The question I would like to emphasize instead—and the only one that will ultimately point us toward the truth—is the Who amid our suffering. Which is fortunate, since it is the only question that God has seen fit to answer, concretely, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. – pages 24-25
“A person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their arms grow back” may be the best description I’ve ever read of what it feels like for a depressed person to try to cheer herself up. – page 54
The gospel frees us to speak honestly about the reality of pain, confident that nothing rides on our ability to cope with or fend off suffering. Before we can even begin to grapple with the frustrations and tragedies of life in this world, we must do away with our faithless morality of payback and reward. We must reacquaint ourselves with the biblical weight of the problem that we less-than-perfect human beings are contending with in the face of a holy and righteous God. We must return to the beginning (and end) of the whole affair: the cross. – page 68
If you have suffered the loss of a family member to chronic disease, if you suffer debilitating seasons of depression, if you lost your job and livelihood, or if you went through a divorce that came out of the blue, know that God is not punishing you. He is not waiting for you to do something. You don’t have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and find a way to conquer the odds, be stronger, or transform yourself into some better version of yourself. The pain you feel (whatever the degree) may be a reminder that things are not as they should be, in which case it is appropriate to mourn the gravity of that brokenness. While God does indeed use the suffering in our lives, He is interested in much more than improvements in your personality or circumstantial happiness; He is interested in saving you. He is more than your Helper; He is your Redeemer. We do not have the primary role in this drama after all; we are the actors, not the directors. Sometimes it requires getting on our knees for us to see the truth. – page 69
Translated into spiritual terms you might say, “I’m having a bad day, but at least I don’t have pancreatic cancer. God has too much on His plate for me to bother Him with my petty concerns. He clearly cares more about starving children than He does about my seasonal depression.” There may be something noble about keeping things in proper perspective, but soon we are dictating to God what He should or shouldn’t care about. And it is a slippery slope! Eventually we’ll edit our prayers along these lines, as though we were giving a political speech, rather than simply speaking with our heavenly Father. If the only things that qualify as suffering in your life are natural disasters or global warfare, you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding overenthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing. – pages 76-77
Grief, of course, is not something that operates according to a specific time frame, and it seems cold to suggest otherwise. Yet when we do not grasp that God is present in pain, we eventually insist on victory or, worse, blame the sufferer for not “getting over it” fast enough. This is more than a failure to extend compassion; it’s an exercise in cruelty. – page 77
When the goal becomes conquering our sin instead of soaking in the conquest of our Savior, we actually begin to shrink spiritually. (page 82)
The tragic irony in all of this is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. And what is Original Sin if not a preoccupation with ourselves? What needs to be rooted out and attacked is not immoral behavior; it’s immoral belief—faith in my own moral and spiritual “progress,” rather than in the One who died to atone for my lack of progress. (pages 82-83)
Christians believe that Jesus severed the link between suffering and deserving once for all on Calvary. God put the ledgers away and settled the accounts. But when you and I insist on that all-too-comfortable paradigm of cosmic score keeping, we stop talking about Christianity and in fact adopt a Westernized form of Hinduism. We are talking about karma. If you are a bad person and things are going well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and “you get yours.” If you are good person, the inverse is true: just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you. This is a simplification of the complex Hindu understanding of history as determined by the past lives of others: that we are all stuck in an eternal cycle of suffering perpetuated by reincarnation. (page 100)
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
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