“What happens when dire circumstances don’t change? What happens when life doesn’t turn out as we had hoped?” Two good questions that lead to another fundamental question, “Is God good”? (p. 4)
As a pastor in a church of more than four thousand souls, for whom Christ lived and died, I have found that these questions are more than just part of a class lecture or a topic for roundtable discussion. For many these are every day, very personal, very deep questions of faith.
K.J. Ramsey is one of those people. In This Too Shall Last, she explores what it would look like if the church treated suffering like a story to tell rather than a secret to keep until it passes. “Our culture treats suffering like a problem to fix, a blight to hide, or the sad start of a transformation story” (p. 22). Doubts arises in the hurting soul—if God loves us, why does he allow us to hurt?
After a health diagnosis, Ramsey learned that in pain, doubt breeds faster than cancer. It invades silently and stealthily, casting a brief shadow which quickly turns into an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Light is the answer, but Light is blocked by darkness. That is where hope does its best work. Hope goes back to the beginning when we first believed and renews that first ray of confidence which works to dispel doubt. Hope is the first feeling of solid ground in a murky fog.
Ramsey examines the understanding that the source of real hope is all-important to the hurting person. On the other hand, false hope is worse than no hope at all. That is where the church must provide community, fellowship, and communion. It is how Christ designed things to work, and it provides not just hope for one but hope for all.
If you spend much time with a deeply hurting person, one who understands that theirs is a story of chronic and untreatable suffering, you soon find out that before-and-after stories with happy endings are not much help. They need real hope in the midst of suffering—hope that does not promise anything but Jesus. They need hope that gives rest to their mind, if not their bodies.
Perhaps most importantly, Ramsey gives language to the feelings of a person who may never see the end of the story. At least not the ending that the world defines as success—healing. I shared this book with several friends and witnessed their demeanor lightened as they saw that it is written by someone who “gets it.” This provides a double tool for help: an understanding for those giving hope and a language for those needing hope.