Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

Book Review: “Yet Will I Trust Him” (Nov-Dec 2000)

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by Greg Taylor
November – December, 2000

The newly published book by John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him, (College Press, 1999) refines and answers the theological questions about suffering as much as the author’s own suffering has refined his faith. Just as bright sun rays beaming through dark clouds during a pouring rain are both rare, noteworthy, and even refreshing, so this book combines rays of the biblical story from an honest exegete and theologian who has experienced the dark clouds of suffering.

Already sold out of its first printing, the College Press book was written for serious university-level students and those who wrestle with suffering and ministering to those who suffer. Through the Bible story, exposition, and faighful lament, Hicks points to a solace in suffering.

Hicks begins the book by telling his personal story about his wife’s death in 1980. Marrying again in 1983, Hicks and his wife, Barbara, have three children. Joshua, now fifteen, suffers from a terminal genetic condition called Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIA (San-filippo Syndrome A). While Joshua once was able to attend school, his condition has deteriorated his brain and debilitated his body so that his speech and bodily functions are on the level of an infant.

In the same chapter Hicks asks, “Where is God when we are hurting?” And if he allows such suffering, how exactly does he go about doing that? Says Hicks, “in what ways does fallenness (suffering in theis case) manifest itself by God’s permission?”

As an undergraduate Bible student Hicks was, by his own admission, arrogant and naive. He and his late wife, Sheila, wanted to be missionaries in Germany, where Hicks hoped to study under a well-known theologian. But the first dark clouds of suffering emerged in 1980 when Hicks’ wife died suddenly after a post-operative blood clot stopped her heart. But Hicks, who admittedly believes he had set a wrong course for himself, says with the Psalmist, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71, NIV).

I am both a student and admirer of Dr. Hicks. He taught a course on Systematic Christian Doctrine in my living room in Jinja, Uganda in 1997. The first time I heard him say with resolution and a strain in his voice, “It was good for me to be afflicted,” I have to admit I was puzzled. I couldn’t understand how someone could say it was good to suffer. Hicks, however, truly believes that God has saved him from the dreadful course Hicks had plotted for himself.

One year after Sheila Hicks died, the 1981 Harold Kushner book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, became a best-seller, giving a whole American culture permission to forgive God for what Kushner views as God’s limited ability to prevent suffering. Kushner advised readers to find that God has worked miracles in suffering, even though he may not do exactly what we expect. More definitive theological treatises on suffering also came out that year, but they flopped at bookstores. Why? Because Kushner’s book told a real story of the author’s own suffering.

Hicks’ book does what Kushner’s book did and more. Yet Will I Trust Him goes beyond Kushner’s work and includes a thorough technological reflection and leading through the biblical texts on faithful lament in Job, Psalms, Lamentations, and Habakkuk. While Kushner’s work drew from psychology and experience, Hicks’ book draws from scripture and experience.

“Kushner’s book was popular because it arose out of his experience and gave us permission to forgive God,” Hicks said. Hicks also says the popularity of Kushner’s book seems to confirm some of our society’s fallen values – that we could believe that God is limited and is not able to stop suffering.

Chapters three and four are the hinges of the book. The section on God’s permission was excellent and got me rolling into the flow of the book and thought. The theme of God granting permission for Job to suffer to test his faith was very helpful in understanding the rest of the book. These chapters, says Hicks, “provide the bare outlines of how God permits fallenness to manifest itself, why he permits it, what its goal is, and what actions God takes to achieve his goals.”

After writing The Brothers Karamazov in 1949, Fyodor Dostoyevsky responded to some reviewers who criticized his obscurantism in writing a novel that deals with suffering but never points to any clear answers. Dostoevsky replied that his crtics could not fathom the depth from which his faith has come. He had been an atheist: “…it is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him. My hosanna has come forth through the crucible of doubt,” Dostoevsky said. Hicks’ book, on the other hand, does not focus on doubt nor does it obscure any questions or attempted answers. In the place of intellectual doubt, Hicks’ suffering and “faithful lament” form the crucible through which his faith has come.

One of the most poignant moments in Hicks’ story took place at a bus stop. Hicks tells about his son receiving ridicule from his fellow students as he boarded the school bus one day. Hicks had wondered why Joshua, who loved riding the bus, no longer wanted to go, until he heard the jibes and cut-downs as the bus was pulling away. It cut Hicks like a knife to his stomach to hear the older students ridicule his son for needing diapers, mocking him as he stumbled down the aisle to find a seat. The whole day, Hicks said he wanted “to take some of those older kids aside and heap some abuse of my own on them.” Anger grew inside, and while he even considered calling the abusive children’s parents or speaking to the school principal, he instead took the anger and hurt to God in lament.

“I went to my office and poured my heart before him. I held nothing back. I complained bitterly, and then I complained some more. There was plenty to complain about. Why was my son born with this condition? Why are others permitted to inflict pain upon the innocent? Why hadn’t the sovereign God of the universe blessed him with health? Somewhere in the middle of that complaint, in the middle of the lament, I became intensely aware that my complaint had been heard … It was as if God said to me, ‘I understand; they treated my Son that way, too.’ In that moment God provided a comfort that I cannot yet explain but one that I still experience in my heart.”

Hicks takes the reader through God’s story and the models in Scripture of faithful lament (Job, Psalms, Lamentations, Habakkuk, the Gospels). “Faithful lament,” says Hicks, “provided the occasion for my finding God through seeking him, though my seeking was probing, doubting, and questioning. God did not mind; I sought him, and he found me. The biblical story gave me the lens to understand my experience and interpret its meaning.”

The book culminates as Hicks lays out the reason for our hope: that while we live and groan in a suffering world, God’s Spirit is present and real among us. Through faithfully seeking God in lament and by breathing the Spirit of God hourly, God’s people in this “already” world, long for the “not yet” of God’s fuller presence which will satisfy our longings and comfort our sorrows.

In one of the most helpful chapters for those who have experienced or may experience the death of a child, Hicks, through his own story and through the stories of David, Job, and Jereboam losing children, explains how the death of a child is not without meaning, that little children, even in death, testify to the Kingdom of God.

Everyone who has suffered a faith-debilitating loss of a child or spouse or friend, every minister to the suffering, every serious student of Scripture, ought to read Hicks’ book. The last chapter is a practical guide for what to say to the suffering and what not to say to the suffering, to avoid being like Job’s friends, whom Job calls “worthless physicians.” Some examples of what Hicks advises not to say to those suffering a devastating loss are these: “It was the will of God” or “God plucked a rose out of his garden” or “it was for the best – some good will come of this.”

Even after the death of his first wife, Sheila, and the painful experience his family continues to endure with their son Joshua, Hicks says “joy still abounds in our family, but it is a joy that lives alongside of lament, alongside of anger, sadness, and sometimes doubt. It is a joy mixed with tears and refined by suffering.” And, says Hicks, “this is a fuller, greater, deeper joy than a life without faithful lament.”Wineskins Magazine

Greg Taylor

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