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A Thorn in the Flesh: Finding Strength and Hope Amid Suffering

By Pablo Martinez
September 2008 | Review by Katherine Glover

Synopsis

In the context of our salvation, Jesus suffered more than any person has ever suffered. God's identification with human tragedy is perfectly expressed in the name Emmanuel: God with us. Humbly and wisely, Pablo guides us beyond the 'why' of suffering to a place of hope.

  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • ISBN: 978-1844741885
  • Pages: 192
  • Price: £8.64
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Book Review

In an age when so many are peddling cheap palliatives for the pain of life in a fallen world, people need something that goes deeper and gets to grips with core eternal issues. If a theoretical exploration of the ‘problem’ of suffering is what you seek, this book is probably not for you. But if you are looking for real encouragement, practical help and comfort in the face of life’s trials, I warmly recommend it.

As a Christian doctor and church leader, Pablo Martinez is no stranger to helping Christians through many types of suffering, but he has also struggled with his own ‘thorn’ – a debilitating eye disease.

In grappling with this difficult topic, he avoids trite responses but instead brings deep encouragement, meaning and strength to his readers from the Scriptures – with evident concern and fellow-feeling. He uses his own experiences in an unobtrusive way to bring added authenticity to his advice.

This is not a book that engenders either self-pity or stoicism, but which aims to develop the kind of spiritual ‘toughness’ that stems from a healthy spiritual response to the buffetings we receive in the Christian life.

Dr Martinez explores the kind of ‘thorns’ that Christians experience, the pain that this causes and the reactions that can follow. He shows the reader the importance of being able to acknowledge and give expression to these reactions, while moving beyond them and avoiding getting stuck in bitterness, anxiety, anger and despair – or experiencing a crisis of faith.

He examines the effect that ‘thorns’ had on biblical characters like Hannah, Jeremiah, Jacob and others, and how they reacted to, and were transformed by, their suffering. He shows that God walks with us in our suffering and does not rebuke us when we cry out in distress.

A useful chapter on ‘acceptance’ explores how Christians can find a true acceptance of their ‘thorn’ that is neither a stoical endurance nor a detached ‘transcendence’. Other chapters look at the role of God’s grace in relation to our weakness; the love of Christians around us as a practical means of God’s grace; and how to recover a joy in living.

A helpful appendix includes several vivid personal testimonies.

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