A Case for Suffering

Can you make a case for suffering? Most of you are probably familiar with Lee Strobel’s  A Case for Christ and A Case for Faith series. An atheistic journalist turned Christian apologist, pastor, and seminary professor, Strobel seeks to display the integrity of the historic claims of Christianity and to convince others to place their faith in Christ.  Holding many back is the dilemma of evil and suffering, both worldwide and personal. Suffering troubles everyone.

We avoid making always and never statements because they usually overstate and exaggerate. However, here is a generality (not counting degree) that cannot be exaggerated. All suffer. “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), but not all suffering is a direct result of specific sin.  All evil and suffering in this world, we theologize, descend from the cosmic crash which occurred in the Garden of Eden when the original couple fell.

Whatever the specific source or cause of your suffering, you have to do something with it. Take a view toward it. Make something of it. Overcome it. Live with it. Discover vocation from it. You have to develop a relationship with it. This is practical theology. According to Dr. John Frame, theology is “the application of God’s Word by people to all areas of life.”[1]  Theology belongs to every Christ follower.

Intentionally or not, each of us shapes an individual theology of suffering, but we never need to shape it on our own. We have each other, the Body of Christ — not only our Christian neighbors and those around the world of our generation, but we also have the “great cloud of witnesses” who came before us. We can stand on their shoulders.  Thus, I present to you a “Case for Suffering” from a preeminent voice of the past, though less known today.  This case comes from the pen of Thomas Case (1598 -1682), a Presbyterian pastor once imprisoned in the Tower of London, during which he wrote A Treatise on Afflictions.[2]

A student of the Word and of real life, Case earns our ears. Reared in a Christian home, Case experienced “divine regenerating grace” at the age of six, studied some years under his father’s tutelage, graduated from Oxford,  and became a “preacher of the gospel,” ministering in various capacities throughout a long life. His biographer, Rev. James Reid (writing in 1811), describes Case.  “His mind was enlightened, and his heart animated by a spirit of truth and of love; and he sincerely endeavored ‘to divide rightly the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15), instructing the ignorant, arousing the careless, reproving the sinner, and comforting the saint.”

Thomas Case taught the Word in the context of experience. To be more succinct, let me quote from the back cover of the book. “He lost his first wife after three years of marriage, had proceedings brought against him because of his opposition to Bishop Wren, and was eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London (alongside Christopher Love and Thomas Watson) for his royalist views after the beheading of Charles I.”

Take a breath. So it was while he was imprisoned that he wrote this treatise on suffering. (I’m sure you can recall various influential works that were composed during imprisonments.)  Case outlines twenty lessons God teaches by affliction.  I’d like to present to you some of his pithy insights and a few of his expanded explanations in the next several posts.

You know I’m in the middle of (muddling through) my major research project to complete my doctorate.  My field of study is a theology of suffering in which I’m structuring a taxonomy of suffering (a system of categories). I’ve divided the pie of suffering into nine categories (each a taxon, plural taxa).  My third taxon is Transformational Suffering.[3] I’m drinking at the well of Scripture and of Thomas Case.

Interestingly, the first verse Case quotes presents the necessary intersection of experience and Scripture, just as Dr. Frame united them in his definition of theology. Psalm 94:12 states, “Blessed is the man in whom Thou chastenest, O LORD; and teachest him out of Thy law.” Case proceeds to place this verse in the context of the entire psalm and develops its theme. Then he writes this:

“. . . Sweet fruit . . . is to be gathered from the bitter root of affliction. The root indeed is bitter, but the fruit is sweet, even divine instruction; which therefore is no longer to be esteemed a punishment, but a blessing . . . .”  Case next articulates what I understand to be the underlying thesis of his twenty lessons.  “The man whose chastisements are joined with divine teachings is a blessed man; or, it is a blessed thing when correction and instruction go together. The rod and the Word make up a complete blessing.”[4]

Case explains that his view of suffering or affliction encompasses “the most latitude, for all kinds and degrees of sufferings, whether from God, or man, or Satan; whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness’ sake.”[5] Throughout the book, Case writes of “the school of affliction.” Maybe my nine taxa are not necessary since all fit under the taxon of Transformational Suffering (disciplinary and educational, producing change).

Thomas Case turns pain on its head. His case for suffering aims “to evince the happiness of that man whom God is pleased to teach by his corrections.”[6]  In order to become happy though suffering, we better learn! Therefore, whatever your situation, I can pray in confidence for you: a happy day. A blessed day.

Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law.

Psalm 94:12

[1] John Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 1987), 76.

[2] Thomas Case. A Treatise on Afflictions. (Westfield, IN: Digital Puritan Press, 2011). Originally entitled, Correction, Instruction: or, The Rod and the Word, published in 1652.

[3] I’ve discovered that sometimes I type “Transformative” rather than “Transformational” for this third taxon. For those of you who read this far (thank you!), what is your opinion? Should I call it the first or the latter? Yes, I suppose you want to know the names of the other eight taxa. Saved for another post!

[4] Case, 1-2. The italics are in the text. I suppose Case underlined these words in his handwritten, original text.

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] Ibid.

Categories: Joy & Suffering -- Good & Evil | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “A Case for Suffering

  1. debra

    My opinion is for ‘Transformative’, based on the assumption that you are going to prove/defend a view that suffering IS transformative. The person suffering chooses whether the transformation is positive or negative.
    Just an opinion…..:)

    • kltolsen

      Ah. Good point. I’ve been leaning toward the term, “transformative” rather than “transformational,” so you’ve encouraged me.

      You are so right that a suffering person decides “whether the transformation is positive or negative.”

      I’m studying the topic of suffering in the book of James now. In a chapter I’ll be writing in another month or two, I’ll deal with the intersection of suffering and joy. There are so many passages in Scripture that link the two. Amazing. God’s goodness through it all is amazing.
      Thanks, Deb, for your input!

  2. Pingback: What Do You Think of a Traveler’s Guide? | Journey North Character

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