Back in the summer of 2013 I was already taking two intensive courses, so I only audited John Mark Hicks’s class. It was phenomenal. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to learn from him and the others in the class. They were gracious to let me participate.
In lieu of the class’s required readings, writing assignments, and exams, I assigned myself the task of summarizing each day of class. Giving a whole new meaning to the word “procrastination,” 594 days passed between my introduction to the series and the final Day Five post. I would’ve loved to have finished this back in July 2013, but it sure was fun to work back through the material a good while after the fact.
Below are some resources on John Mark Hicks’s website regarding the topic of suffering and God’s place in the midst of it. Of course my entire series on Providence and Suffering leans heavily on Dr. Hicks, since he taught the class. But I’ve sifted through a good bit of this treasure-trove and tried to point you toward what will be most useful.
First of all, here is the Providence and Suffering course syllabus and course audio (recorded on my phone, so not professional quality).
Now, on to John Mark Hicks Ministries.
Providence and Suffering
From part 12 of a 17-part series on “Systematic Biblical Doctrine” in which Hicks limits himself to 2000 words on some significant topics:
Defending God is not my job. Good thing because I would be awful at it. However, my faith does seek understanding; it looks for answers even when I cannot find them. Exploring the mysteries of divine providence and human suffering is a journey into the recesses of the divine mind and most of it is inaccessible to humans. So, the real question of providence and evil is not can we explain it but can God be trusted with the answer even when that answer is inexplicable or incomprehensible to us or when our best efforts ultimately just don’t make sense. I think the answer to that question is “Yes”.
Comforting Sufferers - Various Posts
Dare We Doubt Together:
Can faith doubt and question? The doubts and questions are real, but it is faith nonetheless. Genuine faith perseveres and is sustained through faithful lament. Without lament emotional doubt would eat away faith like a cancer, but through lament faith speaks to the one who alone can heal that emotional pain and close the distance. God, we are confident, will hear us and comfort us through our lament. God will draw near even as we at times feel so distant from him. He will carry us when we cannot walk and he will be present even when we are angry.
Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.
Comforting the Suffering (like the “rules of thumb” from Day Five. This one is my favorite):
Do something. Don’t say, “If there’s anything, anything I can do, call me.” Why not? Because this places on the sufferer the responsibility to do something, to figure out something for the person to do for them and make a call. This is a time when the sufferer doesn’t need more burdens. Have you ever really been called by someone who is suffering after you told them this? Most likely, you’ve been called rarely, if ever. The sufferer may not want to inconvenience someone nor decide who to inconvenience. Statements like, “Call me if there’s anything I can do” only extend the suffering rather than helping. What needs done? In some cases, everything needs to be done. Do something for the sufferer that you perceive they need. Mow their lawn, take them some food, help them clean their house, change the oil in their car. Show up and do.
The whole list of eight posts can be found in the “Pastoral Care” category of the Serial Index.
Hicks has blogged through the entire book of Job. This series works as an excellent reading guide to study your way through the book. I recommend taking three weeks and reading through a post per day, along with the corresponding passage from Job. Start with his intro posts on Authorship, Date, and Composition and the Structural Guide, then jump right into the most famous part of the book, the (surprisingly misunderstood) prologue.
From Hicks’s post on Job’s prologue:
The function of the Prologue is similar to the way narrations (in words or audibly narrated) precede the classic movies Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The narrations are not themselves part of the action/play of the movie, but they provide a hermeneutical lens for viewing the film. In the same way, the Prologue gives the hearer (reader) a particular world in which to understand the coming Acts. We know how to hear the dialogue because the Prologue has given us some hermeneutical keys. Our reading of the poems is guided by the world the narrator has given us. The poems must be read within the narrative frame provided by the final author/editor just as the The Lord of the Rings can only be understood in the framework of the introductory narration.
Pastoral Review of The Shack
This five-part review of William P. Young’s The Shack is also listed under “Pastoral Care” in the Serial Index.
From part one, Meeting God at the Shack I: Introduction
I read the book last January. Moved to tears several times, I was emotionally and intellectually engaged by Young’s storytelling. This modern parable addresses some of the most perplexing topics of Christian theology as well as some of the most gut-wrenching experiences believers can have. Writing about Trinity, atonement, providence, suffering, theodicy, death of children, parental abuse, forgiving murderers, forgiving self, incarnation, etc. is difficult prose to pursue, even more difficult to describe parabolically. Such an ambitious task is either foolhardy or courageous but nevertheless at least interesting and intriguing. I found it rather compelling.
This series would eventually develop into a book, Meeting God at the Shack. As can be inferred by Hicks’s description of this review as “pastoral,” he doesn’t deal with the theological controversy that surrounds the book in this series. He deals with the underlying theology of The Shack elsewhere, under the “Theology” subcategory, starting here.
Articles, Outlines, and Slide Decks
Under his General tab you can access various articles and lectures, of which I recommend:
- Providence – Providence: Contemporary Options
- Theodicy – A Rational Theodicy?
- Job – Powerpoints for Faithful Lament Lectures and Faithful Lament: Job’s Response to Suffering
On his site, those titles link straight to their corresponding downloadable files, which is why I do not link to them here.
Under Classes, I recommend:
- Suffering – Anchors for the Soul-Trusting God in the Storms of Life: Teaching Outlines
- Suffering – Powerpoints for Anchors for the Soul: Helping Suffering Families
Again, I don’t link to these here because he provides direct access to downloads of these files.
If you find something else that I’ve neglected to link to, do let me know.