A dear friend of mine has been bravely enduring great physical suffering for some time now. It was her situation that prompted us to blog through this book on suffering; for the sake of the church, we need to think well theologically about suffering.
In At the Heart of the Gospel , L. Ann Jervis reminds us that suffering is often understood “as the absence of God; our response, whether intellectual or visceral, to suffering’s cruel bite is to feel that God has abandoned us” (1). If you’ve seen I am Legend, Will Smith’s character plays out this response. Jervis’s intention here, however, is not to engage the “why” questions that orbit human suffering, but learn from Paul how we might respond to suffering.
Paul’s energies are spent on moving the furniture of our minds and imaginations around so that we can see that our suffeirngs take place in a space embraced by God’s love and that they are destined to be swallowed by glory (2).
Against that backdrop she explores Romans, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians discussing the passages that speak, on one hand, to the suffering of believers, and on the other, to the suffering of non-believers. What impresses me about Jervis is her willingness, as a well-known Paul scholar, to self-consciously step beyond the “traditional bounds” (9) of the biblical scholar and reason theologically for the church. Though she might describe this aspect of her work as “amateur reflections” she has much to offer us here.
We begin this discussion the first week of April. I hope you will join us.