Subtitled "Finding Purpose and a Path through Your Pain," WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT FEELING BAD? delivers on the implied promise in that subtitle. John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas, both professors at Liberty University in Virginia, offer a wealth of information and practical help to people who are suffering.
Openly acknowledging that suffering is one of the most serious challenges to religious belief, the authors tackle this difficult subject from biblical and counseling perspectives without ever dismissing or diminishing the very real barriers to faith that suffering presents. In the first of three sections, they confront the pain of suffering and lay the groundwork for the rest of the book by stating up front the five truths about suffering: it is universal, painful, personal, unnerving. However, there is meaning to suffering, they maintain, but God is under no obligation to give us a reason for our pain.
In this section, they also look at the multiple sources of pain and suffering (such as the reality of living in a broken world) and offer encouragement by reminding us that God is always with us in our suffering.
Section two looks at the purposes of pain, and here the book provides profound insights into how suffering shapes us --- the nitty-gritty about how feeling bad can work toward our good. Thomas and Habermas discuss in detail the concept of "soul-making," the development of our character through hardship. In these 15 chapters they demonstrate how suffering can turn us inward (by becoming more humble, for example), forward (by forcing us to mature, among other outcomes), outward (such as by serving others) and upward (by glorifying God and in other ways). The authors also rightly point out that much of our problem regarding the "benefits" of suffering stems from the fact that such a notion runs counter to Western thinking, while many Eastern cultures accept the idea without question.
The final section offers a pathway through suffering, Thomas and Habermas note, rather than around it. They begin by urging readers to examine their beliefs about suffering and promptly demolish some of the myths associated with suffering --- myths that are held by Christians in particular --- such as the myth that truly spiritual people should never have to suffer and that simply reading the Bible will solve all their problems. The authors point out not only the folly of adhering to those myths but also the dangers inherent in that way of thinking. The answer to going through the process of suffering --- trusting God --- sounds simplistic, but here they also acknowledge how difficult that can be and how we can be deceived into thinking we're trusting God when we really aren't.
As the authors point out, what matters most is not the suffering itself but our responses to it. "When you realize you are not in control, God is finally able to have control of your life. Take your 'why me?' mentality, turn it over to Him, and find the 'what for?' of your pain." Good advice all around.
WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT FEELING BAD? is an excellent resource on the problem of pain and suffering and a helpful guidebook for those trying to navigate their way through the suffering they're experiencing right now. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011