I try not to inundate you with book recommendations and only recommend what I truly love. Anything by Russ Ramsey I truly love. Russ is a guy from Nashville who never fails to produce works both visceral and theologically robust. His books Behold the Lamb of God and Behold the Lamb of Glory (for Advent and Easter respectively) are some of my favorites to have on hand during their season. He shows more than he tells so that when he does tell, you're listening.
Russ's new book, Struck, taken from Annie Dillard's words, "I had been my whole life a bell and never knew until I was Struck," chronicles the story of Russ being near death from a heart infection. In it, he wrestles with theology, suffering, faith, and his own life in a way that never fails to strike his reader in their own heart. I'm always grateful when Russ releases a new book into the world, and this time even more so.
Below is an excerpt from the book. I hope it encourages you in itself, and sends you over to Amazon or your local bookstore to find a copy of it.
God Does Not Owe Me, by Russ Ramsey, from Struck:
I must remember that God does not owe me a life free from suffering. To expect that he does is to grossly misread the Scriptures. Pick a saint, any saint, and you will find a trail of sorrow, hurt, sin, and catastrophe in their wake.
Behind Abraham sits Hagar a bowshot away from her son Ishmael who has been cast out of the camp. She is waiting for the boy to die.
Behind David is Uriah the Hittite lying dead on the battle field while the king’s son grows in Uriah’s wife’s womb.
Behind Peter, the sound of the cat o’ nine tails raking across the back of his best friend is interrupted by the crow of a rooster.
The Lord does not owe me a pain-free life. But he does promise to be with me in it.
Because the Lord often withholds explanation for our pain, we must not look at suffering as though it is some divine gimmick designed to teach us some important life lesson. That would make too little of the reality. God’s people do not walk through suffering toward the moral of the story. Rather, we walk toward the eternal presence of the Maker and Lover of our souls. This I must remember.
I must also proclaim that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Suffering is not an event. It is a path. Scripture calls it a road pocked with miry clay and slippery rocks.
There are plenty of advisors out there who would counsel me to dress this up in positive thinking. But I do not think it would be honest to try to pad my experience with cleverly contrived optimism that denies what is true. My faith in Christ provides a deeper, truer way. I want to feel my sorrow. I want to walk in it. If the Lord walks there with me, what possible advantage could there be in conjuring another way?
No, I choose the road of suffering, and I pray for the courage to walk it honestly. The truth is my heart is broken. I need time to say as the psalmist said, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.” As part of my confession of faith, I need to say that I am not okay—not completely.
Lamentation is a part of worship. It is that part of us that cries out over the sorrow of the suffering, pain, and relational brokenness by which we have all been hurt. I lament to the Lord that over these past two years I have been the bruised reed he has promised not to break. I am the smoldering wick he has promised not to extinguish. I am the brokenhearted whose wounds need binding. God gave me this body with all of its physical limits, and then he broke me. He is at the same time my Healer and the one who has permitted my affliction.
The deeper I venture into this affliction, the more questions I have. But I remember C. S. Lewis who said, “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘no answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
I have reconciled myself to the fact that there is much I do not understand. But where else can I go? He alone has the words of life. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. But though I trust him, yet shall I lament that he has slain me.