Most Christians, at one time or another, go through trials, affliction, distress, and deep sorrow. Whether it be physical pain, spiritual anguish, grief, persecution, or a heavy cross, followers of Jesus face tribulation on their journey to the New Jerusalem. Sometimes we can’t sleep, we can’t stop crying, and we can’t stop asking God “why?” in our feeble prayers. We definitely need help getting through affliction in a godly way.
The first thing one should do under God’s hand of affliction is turn to God in prayer and to his Word for comfort. The second thing one should do is lean on the body of Christ (pastors, elders, Christian friends). Another thing to do is read solid books written for the afflicted. To that end, I’ll give this list of books that I’ve found incredibly helpful when the rod and staff of God’s affliction weigh heavy.
Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod. This book was originally published in 1659 and was based on sermons that Brooks had preached. It is written, of course, in older English, but it isn’t too difficult and is only around 100 pages long. Brooks writes in a very orderly way – I’d suggest outlining the book as you read. I assure you, this book will teach you what it means biblically to see God’s hand in affliction, God’s help in affliction, and Christ’s hope through it. (You can find it on Kindle for $.99).
Jerry Bridges, Is God Really In Control? This book was written just a few years ago, and like all of Bridges’ work, is clear, biblical, and pastoral. It is around 150 pages long, and includes questions for further thought. I appreciate how Bridges understands the magnitude of tragedy and tackles it head on while firmly upholding God’s sovereignty, providence and love for his people in and through suffering.
Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised. Sittser lost his mother, wife, and little girl in a car accident. This book is a sort of a theological and philosophical reflection on the tragedy of losing loved ones. Even though this book is focused on a specific kind of affliction – death and loss– it does deal with grief, pain, and doubt in an excellent way. If you’re in the middle of a season of trial and pain, this book will help you deal with it and look to the light of Christ for hope and help.
R. C. Sproul, Surprised By Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life. The first part of this book focuses on suffering; the last part focuses on death. There is also a helpful question and answer section in the appendix. If your affliction is not “unto death,” the first few chapters will be where you’ll want to focus, as Sproul discusses suffering in a gospel centered way.
Michael Horton, Too Good To Be True (aka A Place for Weakness). This book specifically deals with tragedy and what it has to do with God’s plan and Christ’s cross. Horton talks about Luther’s theology of suffering vs. the theology of glory, and talks about suffering in light of the gospel. It’s an easier read – and not too long – so this too would be a good one to read when your cross weighs you down and you can’t read anything too long and deep.
William Bridge, A Lifting Up For the Downcast. This Puritan Paperback is a great resource on trials, suffering, and affliction. Bridge takes Satan’s attacks seriously, uses the Psalms extensively, and continually focuses the reader on God’s sovereignty, love, and providence. He also gives some excellent pastoral advice for those suffering affliction. It isn’t short (around 300 small pages), and it is a bit tougher to read than some others on my list here, but if you’re an intermediate or advanced reader you’ll want to study through this one.
Thomas Boston, The Crook in the Lot. This booklet was first published in 1737. It is a great treatise on suffering and God’s providence – how he uses affliction for the good of his people and his own glory. It is quite difficult to read in some places, however, but it is not too long (c. 150 pages). I appreciate how Boston calls the Christian to remember his duty during affliction and suffering – while resting in God’s sovereignty. You can find this on Kindle for $.99.
There are other excellent books about affliction in the Christian life; feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments below. If you haven’t yet gone through deep affliction, I recommend getting one or two of these books in preparation for it. These books won’t take away the pain and heartache of trials, but they will help you keep your feet on the path and your eyes on Christ as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.