I was recently at a counseling conference, browsing through the bookstore. One of the newer books displayed was Tim Challies’ new book, “Seasons of Sorrow: the pain of loss and the comfort of God.” I was looking for a book I could read during my flight home, and this book was my companion.
Every person will face pain and loss in this world, and there are different responses to those events. Suffering is part of living in a sinful post-fall world. All of us will suffer in this lifetime (Christian and non-Christian). The question is when and to what degree. All will suffer in this life, but not all will respond the same to suffering. I think suffering leads us to a crossroads in life. One path is to turn away from the Lord and focus inward, allowing the devastation to shape one’s thinking and identity in life. The other path leads to the Lord, where the truth of Scripture and the reality of this world intersect. This book is a powerful Christian response to one of the most tragic events that could occur in any parent’s life, the loss of a child. The book shows how Challies suffers well as a Christian, but he does not have all the answers.
The book is the story of Challies’ grief and his wrestling with the Lord after the loss of his son, Nic Challies. Nic was a 20-year-old student at Boyce College who suddenly passed away one day while playing sports with classmates. His death was a mystery at the time. He was a young man without any known health issues, yet in a moment, he collapsed to his death. After he found out about Nic’s death, he traveled with his wife, Aileen, to be together as a family in Louisville, KY, since his daughter was also attending Boyce College. His response to this tragic event and the theme throughout the book is that they chose to deal with the sorrow, grief, and devastation as Christians.
Challies recounts his story through four seasons of grief. The most natural question that comes to mind when tragedy occurs is the question of God’s goodness. “Is God still good when we suffer loss?” and “What did I do to deserve this?” His response regarding God’s goodness was this, “God’s goodness means that everything God is and everything God does is worthy of approval, for he himself is the very standard of goodness.” He also said, “It falls to me to align my own understanding of goodness with God’s, to rely on God’s understanding of good to inform my own.” Challies is not saying that all events are good, as death is not “good” in itself. Death was brought about by the fall and is a consequence of sin. Although death exists, it is not the end, and God’s goodness is seen in his overcoming death (1 Cor 15:54-56). Challies even made the point that his son passing away at a young age saved him from experiencing the brokenness of this world, sin, sorrow, temptations, and the aches of aging. Often we get so attached to this world that we forget this is not our home, and we have a great hope in heaven where every tear will be wiped away, and death will be no more (Rev 21:4).
The second natural question he asked is, “What did I do to deserve this?” He explained that he thought maybe there was some sin, rebellion, or lack of conformity to the law of God that caused his son to be taken from him. He quoted the Puritans, “They often attribute life’s trials to God’s fatherly chastisement, to divine correction designed to steer us from a destructive course.” He said these types of thoughts haunted him. Finally, he concluded that he could not take the blame for what happened nor attempt to understand God’s will, but he had to accept his will. I appreciate his honesty and his wrestling with this question. So often, I think we ask this question of “deserving,” either good or bad, as if God was overlooking our lives and rewarding us for obedience while punishing us for disobedience. If his actions were the cause of his son’s death, a follow-up question would be, “what did his wife or daughters do to deserve this?” It is an unanswerable question to understand the inner workings of God’s providence in the connected lives of his children.
One of this book’s greatest strengths is that he wrestles with the Lord, not hiding the pain or grief. He talks about God’s sovereignty and his response. The reality is God does not change; his steadfast love endures forever, in both the good and the bad that we face. He presents the sovereignty of God in its fullness. “For while his arm is strong, his mind is vast, his heart is kind, his love is true, and his purpose is good. I believe and profess there is nothing better than for God to do whatever he pleases, nothing more suitable than for God to work his will. That is true, whether it leads to laughter or tears, whether it brings me pleasure or pain, whether it gives or takes away.”
There is a lot more in this book that encourages Christians to suffer well. There are no trite responses nor simplistic explanations. Instead, there is the reality of how God is portrayed in Scripture and a Christian response to the truth of who God is and how he rules his creation and those he created.
I came to the end of the book as the plane began descending into Los Angeles. Seasons of Sorrow was one of the most challenging books I have read because the story of his suffering as a Christian Father is heartbreaking. As a dad, I was holding back tears reading through most of this book. I recommend reading this book with a highlighter and a tissue. Let this book moves you to tears, but don’t stop there. Allow this book to challenge you, break your heart, and yearn for heaven even more. May this book give you greater hope in the one who conquered death and promises to be with us through any pain, sorrow, grief, and loss.
I would also recommend his blog, which he regularly writes and encourages believers.