In Between Pain & Grace, Gerald Peterman and Andrew Schmutzer hope to encourage readers to develop a biblical theology that informs their understanding of pain and suffering. In examining different biblical examples of suffering including Job, Joseph and Jesus, the authors make helpful observations on how pain is an unavoidable part of our lives. However, suffering does not define our lives as our identity is found in Christ, the God-man who has experienced more suffering than any human being could ever bear. Besides analyzing biblical narratives, the book also discusses several different aspects of pain and suffering that often tear apart both the individual and the immediate community including sexual abuse, family tensions, and mental illness in an honest and practical manner. In each of the chapters, the authors seek to help readers understand the complexity of pain and how it permeates both individual and community life on many different levels. Furthermore, Peterman and Schmutzer bring out the message that though the brokenness of fallen creation and humanity is immensely deep, God is the One who most intimately knows our pain in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The book offers no easy solutions but point to Jesus as the One who can sympathize with us when we feel despair and disappointment. This does not mean that we simply sit there and bemoan the hardships and calamities we experience. Rather, the authors state that Christians are to actively prevent future suffering to the best of our ability while also engaging in lament and comfort those who are presently suffering. Peterman and Schmutzer repeatedly urge readers to go beyond mere patchwork solutions but to realize that pain and suffering runs deep in the human experience and often takes a slow and gradual process of healing which is found ultimately in Christ.
One part of the book that I wrestled with is the discussion on the immutability and impassibility of God. The authors argue against the classical understanding of divine immutability and impassibility as removing all emotion from God. The authors point out several biblical passages that describe God as being angered or hurt as not merely anthropomorphisms but as actual descriptions of God’s experience. On one hand, I find it helpful that the authors remind us from biblical examples that God is not uninvolved and void of emotion. However, the authors also seem to suggest that God reacts as humans do when encountering disturbing events which may imply that God changes through the interactions between Him and His creatures. I mention this not necessarily as a critique to the authors as I am a novice on the topic and assume the authors did not have the opportunity to fully explain their perspectives within the one chapter committed to the subject. I do however encourage readers to engage more deeply in understanding the subjects of divine immutability and impassibility as the implications are significant in terms of how we view God’s involvement in pain and suffering.
I would recommend this book to all who hope for a biblical understanding of the complexity of pain and suffering. The book strikes a good balance between academic and leisure reading allowing a wide audience to benefit from the material presented. The authors remind us that Jesus has conquered all including pain, sin, and death. While we groan under the heavy burdens in life, we fix our eyes firmly on our risen King who will one day return and set everything right. However, this does not imply that our present sufferings are meaningless as the pain we experience causes us to grow in spiritual maturity and greater dependence on Christ. God is not distant and aloof but is intimately involved in our lives and understand pain through His Son who took on flesh and became our sympathetic High Priest. Suffering and pain will never be eradicated in this present age but as children of God we yearn and look forward to the eternal bliss in the age to come.
In compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I received a review copy from Moody Press in exchange for a book review.