This may be a matter of taste, but I thought Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free was too peppy for a book on the theology of suffering. I like small, tightly focused books, and I thought returning again and again to Job was an interesting idea, but there was a weird quality of breathlessness (and too many exclamation points) throughout.
The best part of the book contrasted the Theology of Glory with the Theology of the Cross. In the former, suffering is an instrumental good (“no pain, no gain”) and in second the focus is on Christ with us through all things, good or bad. Proponents of the first view (Tchividjian calls out Oprah specifically) end up sounding pretty Panglossian. Every privation is really just an opportunity in disguise! The price of this chipper approach to theodicy is stripping their theology of any explanatory power. Everything that happens fits their narrative equally well.
And minimizing the bad means they’ve watered down the good. The ultimate goal in putting on Christ is to find the place where our restless heart should rest. One ought to keep striving for the good, but that feeling of resistance is itself evidence that something is very rotten in the state of Denmark. Overpraising the struggle can leave us liking the feeling of exerting strength, instead of feeling a little regretful that strength was required.
You have to be a very gifted writer to talk about the redemptive power of suffering without sounding glib. And I’ll bet it’s a little easier to do in fiction, where you can take the reader inside and through the experience of suffering. Tchividjian gives a few examples from his life and the lives of his friends, but the stories are a little flat and move quickly to his gratitude for a quickly emerging lesson (Tchividjian tried unsuccessfully to win over a coworker and fell into resentment. He later realized it was outside his power, as the other person saw him as competition for a promotion. “God had used this admittedly low-wattage situation to teach me something important”). These just-so stories sound more than a little like the Theology of Glory he rebutted well early in the book.
I think it might be easiest to address theodicy either in very academic works or in fiction. In memoir, it’s hard to trust the author to both flay himself open and perform an instructive dissection. So, ultimately, my advice is to skip this book and, off the top of my head, to maybe check out one of these instead:
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis
Mortality – Christopher Hitchens
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
More suggestions welcome