“When the Stars Disappear” A Review

When the Stars Disappear: Help and Hope from Stories of Suffering in Scripture (Suffering and the Christian Life) - Talbot, Mark - 9781433533501

Mark Talbot knows firsthand what suffering is about. He’s gone through his share of trials in his Christian life. Talbot’s book, When the Stars Disappear, is a discussion about suffering from a biblical perspective. It’s a very short book – it’s less than 100 pages of writing. And it’s not a difficult book to read, which was one of Talbot’s goals. Also worth mentioning is that this is book 1 of a series on suffering by Talbot.

The outline of this book is pretty straightforward. First, Talbot talks about the reality of suffering and gives three examples of people who suffered in Scripture (Job, Naomi, and Jeremiah). The next thing Talbot discusses is how to get through suffering as a Christian. He uses the Psalms of lament to say that we need to pray through suffering and remember God’s truths through it. After this we learn about God’s steadfast love in the lives of Job, Naomi, and Jeremiah. In his steadfast love, God brought them through suffering. The last short section of the book talks about how one day in the new creation there will be no more suffering for God’s people. These stories and the storylines of Scripture, Talbot argues, give us hope in the midst of suffering.

When the Stars Disappear is a helpful book on suffering from a Christian perspective. It’s biblical and solid – for that it deserves five stars for sure! However, this book isn’t really a unique contribution to the Christian perspective on suffering. There are scores of Christian books on suffering, many of which cover the same ground as When the Stars Disappear. As I read through this book I could guess where it was going; it was somewhat predictable. All in all this is a good book on suffering from a Christian perspective. But there are others like it. And in my view, although When the Stars Disappear is worth reading, there are other similar books that are better. For example, check out D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord; Jerry Bridges Is God Really in Control?; Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain And Suffering; R. C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering; Sinclair Ferguson, Deserted by God?; John Bunyan, Seasonable Counsel, and Thomas Watson, All Things for Good.

Having said all this, we can be thankful for solid Christian books that help God’s people face suffering in a biblical and hope-filled way!

Mark Talbot, When the Stars Diasppear (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Frowning Providence – Why?

There are times in the Christian’s life when God’s providence is not pleasant. What I mean by this is sometimes God in his sovereignty allows hard trials to befall his people. The 30-year-old Christian man gets the diagnosis that he has lymphoma. A Christian mother has to go through the painful and heart-breaking experience of a miscarriage. A Christian wife is abused by her wicked husband. A teenager comes to faith in Christ and his family disowns him. The list goes on. Sometimes God’s providence is dark. He moves in a mysterious way and it happens that the dark clouds of providence hang heavy over our heads.

Why do these things happen to God’s people? Why? We don’t have all the answers. God doesn’t always tell us “why.” To be sure, there are some places in Scripture that do tell us “why.” That’s the subject of a book I suppose. For now, I want to point out a helpful sentence in the Westminster Confession that talks about this:

As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so after a most special manner, it takes care of his Church and disposes all things to the good thereof. (WCF 5.VII)

 Here’s how A. A. Hodge commented on this phrase in the Westminster Confession:

These Sections [of the Confession] teach also that there is a relation of subordination subsisting between these several systems of providence as means to ends in the wider system which comprehends them all. …The providential government of God over mankind in general is subordinate as a means to an end to his gracious providence toward his Church, whereby he gathers it out of every people and nation, and makes all things work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), and of course for the highest development and glory of the whole body.

 Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1869), 143.

We might not always have the answers for why God allows his people to face tough providences. But we can trust him when we face difficult times in life because we know that he’s in total control. And we know he is sovereignly working all things for our good, the good of his church. William Cowper’s hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness” is applicable here:

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

This hymn is found in William Cowper, The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, ed. H. S. Milford (London; Edinburgh; Glasgow; New York; Toronto: Henry Frowde, 1905), 455.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions as Medicine, Providence as a Whole (Manton)

Many Christians have memorized the great promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).”  Although afflictions and trials usually cloud our judgment and cause us to sometimes second guess this promise, it is true despite our feelings. I appreciate how Thomas Manton commented on this verse:

It [the affliction] shall turn to good. This is the comfort of the people of God, that all that befall them is either good or shall turn to good: Rom. 8:28…. If we have even a little faith, we may know it for the present, and be assured of it before we see it; and if we have but a little patience, we shall know it and find it by experience.

All things work together for good; singly and apart they may be against us, but ‘omnia simul adjumento sunt.’ Poisonous ingredients in a medicine, take them singly, and they are destructive; but as they are tempered with other things by the hands of a skilful physician, they prove wholesome and useful. So all things that befall us, are tempered and ordered by God for good. There is no beauty in a building till all the pieces be get together. We view God’s work by halves, and then his providence seems to be against us; but all together it works for our good. How for our good? Sometimes for good temporal, usually for good spiritual, but certainly for good eternal.

Sometimes for our temporal good: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV)….

For our spiritual good. All affliction is made up and recompensed to the soul; it afflicts the body, but betters the heart: “It is good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71 NIV)….

For our eternal good. Heaven will make complete amends: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV)….

The above quotes – edited and summarized – are found in Thomas Manton’s Works, Volume 15, p. 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Difficulty of Rejoicing During Trials (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.)Peter and James both wrote about rejoicing during trials, tribulation, and suffering (1 Peter 1:6; James 1:2).  Yes, God keeps his people even through tribulation.  Yes, he is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Yes, we know that not even trials can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Yes, we believe that we’re united to Christ with an unbreakable bond, and we will one day see him in glory.  Yes, these things give us real and deep joy.  But it’s not always easy to rejoice during a fierce trial.  I appreciate John Huss’ comments on this reality – comments he wrote while very ill and in prison unjustly for his preaching and teaching:

Verily, it is a difficult thing to rejoice with tranquillity, and to count it all joy in the midst of divers temptations. It is easy to quote and expound the words, but difficult to carry them out when that most patient and brave Soldier, although He knew He would rise again on the third day and overcome His foes by His death and redeem the elect from damnation, was yet after the last supper troubled in spirit, and said: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.  Of Whom the gospel saith that He began to fear and to be heavy and sad; nay, being in an agony He was strengthened by an angel, and his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.

Huss went on:

Yet He, though thus troubled, said to His faithful ones: Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid; let it not be troubled because of my short absence nor let it be afraid of the cruelty of them that rage; for you will have Me for ever, and will overcome the cruelty of them that rage. Therefore, the soldiers of Christ looking to their leader, the King of glory, fought a great fight. They passed through fire and water, yet were saved alive, and received from the Lord God the crown of life, of which James in the canonical epistle saith: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him. That crown, I verily trust, the Lord will make me to share along with you also, warm-hearted zealots for the truth, and with all who steadfastly love the Lord Jesus, Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

When Human Means Come to A Stop (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.)
Calvin, Letters

In 1555 there was persecution of Protestants in France. Specifically, Renee, Duchess of Ferrara, was facing hardship and trials for following in the footsteps of the Reformers. John Calvin wrote her at least two letters to encourage her to keep follwing Christ and his word. Here are some paragraphs of a letter from Calvin to Renee in June, 1555. Notice how Calvin says that sometimes when impossible trials and obstacles face us in the Christian life, we not only come to an end in ourselves, but God gets us through or past the obstacle/trial in a way we can’t always fathom. (You may have to read it a few times – I did!):

It is truly the office of God to lead us on like poor blind persons, when we are brought to a stop with all our human means, and to devise expedients which we should never have thought of, enabling us to surmount every obstacle though all the while we see not a whit.

It is at the same time our office to pray him to be pleased to open our eyes, that as soon as he, gives us some sign we may immediately follow it. Spare not then to put in practice day by day all the means in your power to advance in the right path. So doing, though you may still be far from the mark, it will not be in vain that you stretch towards it, for our progress is certain, provided we keep following, however faintly; and such an assurance should fortify us to resist all temptations.

Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 188–189.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015