by Stephen F. Olford
In the realm of Christian authors, one word comes to mind when Stephen Olford's name is mentioned: "prolific." His books on preaching and ministry-building have been standards for thousands of clergy the world over. Yet his most recent work, The Sword of Suffering, has the potential to be the benchmark book for a much larger demographic: those who suffer-and we all suffer! Whether you are suffering from illness, depression, injury, loss of a loved one, or you know someone who has been deeply ravaged by suffering of any kind, this book is for you.
A recent bout with cancer inspired Dr. Olford to pen the chapters of Sword. Using his own battle and struggles with cancer and the illnesses and deaths of his loved ones and dear friends as vivid examples, he offers a candid look into the presence and purpose of God in suffering.
Yes, God does have a purpose for suffering, and, for Christians, suffering is for our own good. Dr. Olford calls suffering for the Christian a "gift of grace which brings vitality into our lives." The Sword of Suffering debunks the myths of the "health and wealth" prosperity gospel, which teaches that all human suffering is inexorably linked to a lack of faith or a lack of being in God's will. Starting with Job, the author then cites examples of men and women with giant-sized faith whom God allowed to suffer.
Once Olford establishes the harsh reality of suffering, he then segues into the theology of suffering and its divine purpose. It is quite fitting that a whole chapter is devoted to the many sufferings of Jesus Christ-our perfect example of how Christians should react when facing trial and persecution. Much commentary is then devoted to scriptural passages such as Phillippians 1:29 and 1:Peter 4:12,13 that focus on suffering for Christ's sake and how Christians "partake of Christ's sufferings." Knowing that we are partakers of Christ's suffering not only gives us hope in the midst of despair, it also allows us to "take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when [we are] weak, then [we are] strong" (2:Cor. 12:10 NKJV).