By Carl Stagner
“Life is less about waiting for the storm to stop and getting all the answers to our ‘why’ questions. Life is more about learning to dance in the rain, living joyously by faith, without all the answers.”
These words continue to echo in the minds of listeners who tuned in to the Beeson Podcast late this summer to hear Dr. Timothy George interview prolific Church of God author, and former seminary dean, Barry Callen. The topic: suffering. As Barry Callen contends, suffering is one of the most meaningful ways Christians experience the heart of God. His 2018 book The Jagged Journey demonstrates this in the person and passion of Jesus, as it offers practical theology to encourage readers to embrace, instead of avoid, suffering. A complementary work, God in the Shadows, confronts the seemingly contradictory themes of faith and doubt. For such a time as this, these two books bring the Movement face-to-face with issues as relevant as ever, yet too often swept under the rug.
The classic Church of God hymn asks the pointed question, “Who will suffer with the Savior?” Barry agrees that the song is not often sung, in large part, because suffering simply isn’t a “popular subject.” The chorus goes on to confess, “Lord, we fellowship Thy passion, gladly suffer shame and loss; with Thy blessing pain is pleasure, we will glory in Thy cross.” How often do Christians regard pain as pleasure? Such an aspiration flows out of a sound conclusion that, while believers may try to avoid suffering at all costs, Jesus chose it.
In the podcast interview, Barry reflects on his own battles with cancer and retina detachment, as well as his grief experienced in the loss of his wife to cancer. Though acquainted with suffering emotionally, he wrote the book to synthesize what the Bible says about the topic, not just offer personal feelings and reflections. In fact, when Barry was approached about writing a book on what he thought could be considered the most important subject in Christianity, he responded—after much thought—with the topic of suffering.
“The subtitle [of the book] is “Suffering—God’s Heart and Our Calling,” Barry said. “That’s seeing suffering from a much bigger perspective. It’s less of a problem to be solved. It’s more of a calling that we have to embrace. The big subject, I think, in all of Christianity, is who God is.” Barry Callen says the answer to that question, and the essence of God’s character, is found in Jesus Christ. In larger part, he says, we understand who God is through the suffering of Jesus.
In the book, Barry touches on the “blame game” of suffering, as well as the potential witness. He also examines the life of Job in rediscovering, along with the reader, the joy that’s accessible, even in the eye of the storm.
As a foundation for The Jagged Journey, Barry recommends readers take a look at God in the Shadows. “The life of faith today is being forced to be walked in the shadows of doubt, confusion, fear, and wondering why God is not more obvious and fixing everything that is so wrong. My intent in writing God in the Shadows is to encourage the nervous believer. Doubt is always part of the life of faith for the perceptive and thinking believer. God understands and forgives and comforts…The young in faith are especially vulnerable to doubt…Christian education is partly for asking hard questions and preparing the young for handling faith in the tough marketplace of no belief, and outrageous beliefs.”
Barry tells Church of God Ministries he never intended the two to fit so well together, but sees the value of the pair. “They developed separately, but turn out to be very related and complementary. God in the Shadows goes first, plowing complicated ground. The Jagged Journey then shows how believing, despite the shadows, completes the two great tasks of biblical revelation—one, revealing who God really is (suffering love) and two, clarifying who we are called to be (carrying our own crosses with Jesus).”
To order a copy of these two resources, search for them on Amazon.com. Listen to the free podcast with Barry Callen and Timothy George at https://www.beesondivinity.com/podcast/2018/The-Jagged-Journey-A-Conversation-on-Suffering. Learn more about Church of God Ministries at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.