A Christian response to trials and suffering
(c) 1994, Frank Retief

Published jointly by Nelson Word Ltd, Milton Keynes
and Struik Christian Books, Ltd., Cape Town.
ISBN 0-85009-636-7
South Africa ISBN 1-86823-172-0
Australia ISBN 1-86258-313-7

Frank Retief, the senior pastor of a large evangelical church in Cape Town, South Africa, reviews a surprise disruption and wild shooting spree in their church on the Sunday evening of July 25, in 1993. As a result, 11 people died, and 55 were injured, some maimed for life. Using the lessons learned in the after-math, and as he led his congregation to recovery from the trauma, this pastor shares some profound and helpful insights into how Christians should respond to severe trials and suffering.

Although few of us, percentage-wise, can expect such extreme situations to arise in our lives, the things we do experience are just as intense and hard to bear for us. It is these general principles of how to understand the events, and God's role and character throughout, and what He asks of us - these are crucial and applicable in any hard times we face. This pastor ably shares the principles we can apply to our own situations.

Frank Retief does an excellent job of this. His insights are clear and his ability to convey how to make them ours is exceptional. I commend him for writing this book.

First he gives us a thorough narrative of the massacre at St. James, their church. Although not present himself, as he and his family had just returned the night before from a trip to England, and he had a headache, and they were still suppose to be on vacation, he has reconstructed the event, and the immediate reactions, and how he was called, and he hurried over to help deal with the crisis and the media which descended on them. (I personally had not heard of this through the media, but I felt this book did a fine job of describing it).

After any crisis people start asking "Why me, Lord?" type questions. While there are many different reactions to hard times or trials of any kind, he saw that sooner or later, almost everyone had to deal with this concept; why did God allow this to happen? Why to them?

His conclusion, we are called to suffer. Bad things do happen in this fallen world, and they happen to Christians as easily as to anyone else. We are not marked out because God is angry at us.

The question that followed for most was, can God ever be trusted again? Retief develops God's faithfulness and the problem of good and evil. God does not stand behind good and evil in the same way. If He did he would be entirely amoral. It would mean that though He is powerful, God is not necessarily good. But God is not only sovereign, He is also both transcendent and personal.

Then there is also the Joseph principle, taken from Genesis 50:19-20, where Joseph says to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." I agree with Retief, once we grasp that God can use the evil that happens to us, to turn it into something for our good and His glory, we really have a better handle for trusting God in all events.

This book handles many other questions about trials. Who is really responsible for our suffering? How to rebuild confidence and be able to pray again after a great shock? What about forgiveness?

The media people were very surprised that the church people were able to openly forgive the perpetrators. This gave the church as a whole great opportunities for witness to the power of Christ to help them forgive. But Retief adds some key points about forgiveness we must remember.

1. "A new, undesirable relationship comes between an offender and a victim." That needs to be resolved.

2. By choosing to forgive you are not condoning what happened. The wrong done is still wicked, but now we leave it to God to punish the offender justly. We are giving up our right to revenge. (Even in our imaginations).

3. For true forgiveness to be received there has to be repentance and as far as possible, restitution. Again, our forgiveness does not erase the wrong done to us, it just frees us from the bondage to the hate and anger and desire to retaliate.

Retief discusses the devil and his role and our attitude to him. It is a temptation to discuss some of these items, but this is not the place. I did like the Martin Luther quote which I had not seen before, that "'The devil is God's devil.' They are not two equal beings, but rather a subordinate created being who rebelled against the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe." (pp.175).

How true. Just because we can choose whom to serve, doesn't make them equal.

There are many other good points in this book, and it is well worth a reading and a re-reading or two. Do what you can to get a copy and to give a copy to someone else.

Ruth Marlene Friesen Your Hostess

Giving Lessons