Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home, Kenneth Boa, with Jenny Abel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Summary: A study of how suffering may shape a person for eternity with God, based on 1 Peter.
There’s a lot of suffering in the world. Even in ordinary times. Illness. Injury. Chronic pain. Broken relationships. Depression. Death. That’s just a sample. We want to know why this happened. We want to know how this can be reconciled with the goodness of God. That’s not what this book is about.
The authors have a more focused purpose. They are writing for those who believe, and particularly those whose trust in Christ includes a hope beyond this earthly life, in the words of the creed, a belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” They believe suffering forms us in this life, and prepares us for that eternity. They write:
The qualities we most admire in people are seldom forged in times of ease but in times of adversity. All the heroes of the faith suffered in some way, whether in an internal or external, chronically or as a result of a single crisis. Some suffered even to the point of death. While no sane person eagerly runs into the arms of suffering, believers in Jesus today often avoid it at all costs. Our most earnest prayers are too often, “Take this painful thing away” instead of “Use this for your glory” or “Keep me safe” instead of “Embolden my faith in this danger or threat.” This book takes a hard look at our perspective on suffering and challenges us as believers (myself included) to see it more as God would have us see it: from an eternal perspective. (p. 2)
The book follows 1 Peter, a book written to Christians facing imminent persecution under Nero, making this “the Job of the New Testament.’ They begin with Peter’s assumption of the inevitability of suffering and the hope of restoration (1 Peter 5:10). They consider how suffering purifies as fire does gold in a crucible. They explore the meaning of hope beyond death and the present joy amid suffering in the anticipation of that hope.
Contrary to our inclination to avoid or wish to escape suffering, the authors explore how we might prepare for suffering. The invitation to suffer is a call to imitate Christ, learning submission both to God and earthly authorities. Perhaps for me some of the most challenging words were in a chapter on ministering to others, and the call to intercession that “prays through.” Ultimately we live for eternal glory and as called people.
The discussion, closely following the text of 1 Peter, is mixed with stories both from Christians in history, and from the authors’ own lives. This is what enables the writing to transcend the nostrums that are singularly unsatisfying to those who suffer. Boa and Abel help us listen to an apostle intimately acquainted with suffering, one who knew he was destined for more. At present we face a pandemic and economic collapse. We all want life to go back to the way it was. What if it doesn’t? What does it mean to lean into Christian hope when the way to it is through suffering? This book, and perhaps the study of 1 Peter, may be for such a time as this.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.