God’s ‘rocks of truth’ remain
Before surgery, my neurologist was rather grim. “There’s a chance…
Terry KitsonIn 30-plus years of ministry, I have encountered many people in pain — in hospital rooms, courthouses, cemeteries, church foyers, or my office. Often they ask one or more of these questions.
In the introduction to “I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments,” bestselling author and California minister John Dickerson promises to engage the reader as he ponders the questions that accompany pain, loss and grief.
He does so through narrative. Most chapters begin with a story of someone in pain — a fellow sufferer. Often the chapter ends by returning to the same story.
In chapter two, “Thorns of Our Flesh,” Dickerson shares his own story of suffering a stroke at age 27 as he preached for his congregation of 120 people. Later he shares a heart-wrenching story about his son, Jack, in the hospital emergency room.
I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments
In addition to personal narratives, two stories weave the book together. In the same chapter in which he tells of his stroke, Dickerson introduces the reader to Paul’s thorn in the flesh, which the apostle mentions in 2 Corinthians 12. The thorn — and Paul’s response to it — become major theological themes throughout the book.
Paul “grew into seeing his pain as opportunity,” Dickerson writes. “He saw his pain for what it was — a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join Christ in surrendering a suffering so God can use it to heal others.”
Dickerson injects theology into his stories — and in between his stories. He masterfully shows a progression of theology, especially in the life of Paul, who describes himself in 2 Corinthians “as a man impaled with tormenting pain.” Through Paul, Dickerson shows how the theology of pain can mature from a focus on self to a focus on God’s purpose and the good of the other.
In a different approach to the theology of pain, Dickerson uses the story of Rocky Flats, a facility near Denver used during the Cold War years of the 1950s for the production of nuclear weapons.
“Rocky Flats employed about 5,000 workers per shift,” Dickerson writes. “They milled about in 800 separate buildings.”
Years later, U.S. health officials and the FBI investigated Rocky Flats for violations of workplace safety. Dickerson shares the story of one worker’s struggle with cancer that resulted from those violations. For the rest of the book, Rocky Flats serves as an analogy for a fallen word.
“We live, according to Scripture, on a planet where every molecule and mountain are contaminated by a similar, but much more deadly, radiation,” Dickerson writes. “God calls this radiation sin.”
Pain and suffering result from the nuclear fallout of sin, he adds, beginning with Adam and Eve’s choice in the Garden of Eden.
Pain and suffering are common experiences throughout humanity and were shared by Jesus, the incarnate God, Dickerson writes. The author takes us to Bethany, Gethsemane and Calvary to drive home this point.
“To what end did Jesus suffer?” one might ask. “His suffering was part of the path that led to his finish line — God’s glory and man’s restoration.”
Our suffering, therefore, is a shared experience with Jesus and the apostle Paul. Like them, Dickerson writes, we can find purpose in suffering — an opportunity to glorify God and assist in restoring humanity.
“We join in Christ’s sufferings when we stop seeing our pain as something to endure,” Dickerson concludes, “and begin seeing our pain as something to be repurposed for the glory of God and for the good of others.”
As I counsel Christians in crisis, I have a handful of books that I recommend. I have added “I Am Strong” to that list.
TERRY KITSON serves as preaching minister for the Central Church of Christ in Topeka, Kan. He hosts an annual grief support group named Making It Through the Holidays.
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