Responding to Suffering

How do you respond to hardships? Do you grit your teeth and bear it? Scramble to learn some sort of lesson in hopes of cutting the suffering short? Take the Pollyanna route and force yourself to look for the bright side?

In her book Touching the Hem: A Biblical Response to Physical Suffering, Elizabeth Johnson writes from her experience of suffering with a chronic illness, but the book is not a memoir.  Rather, it is more of a collection of Scripture and theology that helps us understand how a Christian should deal with hardships of any kind.

  • First, Johnson reminds us of who God is.  While she is compassionate about how suffering can make it difficult to think beyond ourselves, she does an excellent job of pointing us to the truths we can rest in when our circumstances are painful or not making sense.  The first section of the book is dedicated to God’s character, with seven chapters full of Scripture and encouragement.
  • Next, she reminds us of what God has done.  Across the span of history or even within our own lifetimes, remembering the evidences of God’s care for us brings comfort and puts our present suffering into perspective.
  • Then, she considers our circumstances and our response.  Johnson writes well and biblically about suffering–the reasons and purposes of it, as well as different ways we can respond to hardship.  The chapters in this section also talk about healing, and what are biblical and non-biblical attitudes and means of seeking relief from suffering.
  • Finally, Johnson brings us to God’s response.  This section reminds us again of how God works through our circumstances for our good and His glory.

While Touching the Hem is written from a perspective of physical suffering, I appreciated how Johnson made it so full of Scripture that you could easily apply it to any kind of hardship.  Even if you are blessed with good health, we all face struggles and trials, and I think that this book would be an excellent reference or study to work through when you’re dealing with any kind of hardship.  Personally, I tend to desperately look for the “lesson” I’m meant to be learning, so that whatever hardship I’m enduring can end.  This book reminds me (gently) that it’s not about me.  Whether you’re working through a chronic situation or intermittent suffering, I think anyone could benefit from this book; it’s the type of book you’d probably come back to more than once.  As opposed to A Place of Healing (another excellent book on suffering), Touching the Hem is written more as a narrative-form Biblestudy, so you could use the short chapters day to day as part of a devotional time, versus the way you would read a memoir.

If you’re currently dealing with some sort of difficulty or illness, or know someone who is, I would recommend Touching the Hem as a very helpful framework, full of Scripture, for helping you to think and respond in a godly way to suffering.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  The publisher sent me a complimentary review copy of the book, but the opinions in this review are my own.  

3 thoughts on “Responding to Suffering

  1. Thanks so much for your kind review, Catherine! I appreciate it!

    Also, since you mentioned it – I highly recommend “A Place of Healing” by Joni Eareckson Tada. One of my favorite books about physical suffering, written by a woman who’s such an example of surrender and true joy.

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