2 Styles of Suffering – concluding questions

Posted: July 9, 2012 by J in Discipleship, Theology

That’s how I see prayers going in times of suffering, for Hartian and for Calvinist-thinking Christians. A few questions occur to me, largely on the pastoral front:


  • Does the Hartian approach create new pastoral possibilities at the darkest time when otherwise pastors are warned to stay silent?
  • Which position would you rather be in, out of these?
  • Which sort of prayer would you rather find yourself praying when you’re suffering?
  • Which sounds more like the prayers of desperate believers, in Scripture?
  1. Ben Hudson says:

    I’m enjoying this Jono!
    It’s interesting to hear Calvin himself wrestle with these questions in Inst. III.viii.8-10

    “Thus it will come to pass that, by whatever kind of cross we may be troubled, even in the greatest tribulations of mind, we shall firmly keep our patience. For the adversities themselves will have their own bitterness to gnaw at us; thus afflicted by disease, we shall both groan and be uneasy and pant after health; thus pressed by poverty, we shall be pricked by the arrows of care and sorrow; thus we shall be smitten by the pain of disgrace, contempt, injustice; thus at the funerals of our dear ones we shall weep the tears that are owed to our nature. But the conclusion will always be: the Lord so willed, therefore let us follow his will. Indeed, amid the very pricks of pain, amid groaning and tears, this thought must intervene: to incline our heart to bear cheerfully those things which have so moved it.’ III.viii.10

    Not that satisfying really.

    But I’m uneasy about going all the way with DBH. Aren’t there just too many passages of scripture which teach or imply that God is sovereign over the details as well as over the big story?

    I feel the need to re-read Blocher’s ‘Evil and the Cross’.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Ben.

      I actually think this from Calvin is pretty good, in context. He’s framing it all as a discussion of Christian suffering, ‘cross-bearing’, not the general suffering of the world. As he says in III.viii.1,

      Hence it affords us great consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem evil and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the sufferings of Christ;

      He takes the trouble to insist at some length that negative feelings are appropriate in suffering, as appears in the passage you quoted: “we shall be pricked by the arrows of care and sorrow”, “Amid groaning and tears” etc. That’s a great improvement pastorally on the way some Reformed-thinking people talk, as though neutralising the groans were the goal.

      In context, telling ourselves ‘the Lord so willed’ seems to be referring to God’s will for us to have fellowship with Jesus in bearing the cross. The ‘cheerfulness’ sounds like gospel-cheerfulness: I don’t think it’s sposed to arise from an abstract doctrine that God wills all suffering. Actually from par.11 that follows, that idea is probably in there as well, but it’s (thankfully) not the main thing he appeals to.

      HOWEVER, I think his discussion is weak in some important ways (I tremble to critique Calvin – but it has to be done). In particular there’s very little emphasis on hope of deliverance from suffering. Very little idea that our afflictions are caused by the demonic, or the anti-God world. Causality tends to go straight to God. God is ‘putting us to the proof’ – which I think is questionable theology. BEcause the big C identifies suffering so strongly as God’s tool, rather than the devil’s, it’s very hard for him to talk about being rescued from it. The sense that suffering is intrinsically evil is weakened in this chapter, I think.

      So yes, not that satisfying, esp at a pastoral level.

      Ben, your concern about Hart is

      ‘Aren’t there just too many passages of scripture which teach or imply that God is sovereign over the details as well as over the big story?’

      I’m interested to investigate this. Which would you say are the clearest passages – maybe we can reread them?

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