A Review of ‘When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent’

by CCIFenn
'When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent' by J. Ligon Duncan

The problem of evil is older than the book of Job. And for many people, it’s the biggest reason that faith in God is difficult – or even impossible. It leaves them asking questions like…

How can a good God allow so much pain and suffering? Why doesn’t he stop injustice before it happens? Where is God among the cancer diagnosis… or the tragic car accident… or the inhumanities of war?

In other words, why does God seem so silent when the pain is loudest?

The Israelites, writing two and a half millennia ago, wrestled with these same questions. They demanded to know why God allowed the wicked to prosper. They pleaded with God to intervene before it was too late. And they asked him why he seemed so silent when they needed him most.

And yet, in a world that was far more brutal than our own, those Israelites didn’t let these questions shatter their faith. Instead, they led them deeper into the presence of God.

Just read Psalm 6… or 38… or 42… or any number of other lament psalms.

The psalms remind us that God welcomes our questions. He receives our deepest groanings as an offering – a longing for faith that seems just out of reach. But if we will continue to pursue him through those questions – even if we’re only making a half a mile a day – he will rescue us in the end.

Pain and suffering do not have to destroy our faith. They can strengthen it. But we must approach them in the proper way. And that’s what J. Ligon Duncan’s little book ‘When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent’ is all about: dealing with suffering well.

In this book, you’ll find two sermons that Duncan preached at Mark Dever’s congregation, Capitol Hill Baptist Church. One on Psalm 88 and the other on Psalm 89.

If you weren’t aware, Psalm 88 is one of the most depressing songs in the psalter. Unlike most lament psalms, it doesn’t end with a turn toward hope or joy. It’s bleak all the way through. And yet, in this sermon, Duncan teases out several important principles to mind when we find ourselves suffering as the psalmist. These are particularly valuable lessons for anyone who feels hopeless, like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Psalm 89 isn’t quite so dark. There are hints throughout that God will vindicate and rescue his people. Yet, it was a psalm written in the dead of night. And so, it provides suffering believers with a blueprint for seeking God through the pain. It offers key theological ideas that serve as an anchor to the souls when the storm is raging.

Now, it’s worth mentioning here that I am not a Calvinist. Duncan is. In both sermons, Calvinism is assumed. But it’s never used as a club. And even though I don’t adhere to TULIP’s five points, I can heartily “Amen” pretty much everything Duncan says.

With all of that said, I have to mention one other thing. Both of these sermons are powerful to read. But like any good sermon, they’re even more powerful to listen to. And that’s perhaps this book’s greatest flaw. You can listen to both of these sermons for free on Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s website (In the Lowest Pit: A Sermon on Psalm 88 and A Psalm for Adversity: A Sermon on Psalm 89). And what’s more – Duncan’s preached sermons have more to them than the manuscript included in this book. Because of this, I believe listening to these sermons would be far more profitable than reading them.

I simply don’t see any reason to buy this book unless you prefer reading to listening or you don’t have access to the internet and, thus, can’t listen to them. The only other reason I could see picking this up is if you want to make sure that you have them in case the audio files are ever removed from the internet.

Whether you’re currently walking through a season of suffering or not, you owe it to yourself to check out these sermons. If you prefer reading, get the book. If you’d rather listen, download the audio file. But give these messages a listen and equip yourself for whatever pain or suffering may lie ahead.

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