The Crook in the Lot
Published in 1737, Thomas Boston's book "The Crook in the Lot," brings together his pastoral and life experience to help Christians face and endure suffering. Boston himself was no stranger to suffering and trials. He struggled with depression throughout his life, and tragically he and his wife lost six of their ten children.
This book is both challenging and encouraging, and well worth the read if you can endure the 18th century writing style and vocabulary. Writing from a different time period and from a non-American perspective, Boston emphasizes duties that we as 21st century Americans need to be reminded of. The following two points summarize what I found to most helpful:
1. To endure suffering as God calls us to, we must have a right perspective about our suffering.
Boston opens the book this way: "A just view of afflicting incidents is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them; and that view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for, it is the light of the word alone that represents them justly, discovering in them the work of God, and, consequently, designs becoming the divine perfections." In other words, if we are ever going to be able to count our trials as "joy," we must have a right understanding of God's purposes for our trials (James 1:2-4). Thus, Boston does not tire of repeatedly bringing forth God's promises to Christians who face suffering, reminding us that God does indeed have a purpose - a good purpose - for the trials of our lives.
Further, Boston frequently expounds upon the dangers of interpreting our sufferings by our own "sense." We can only get a true perspective on our sufferings from the Word of God. I found this to be a critically important reminder for American Christians especially. Our culture is dominated by the belief that our personal feelings and experience are the ultimate guides to what is true and right. As a result, we are tempted to interpret our sufferings in wrong ways: "God doesn't love me." "God isn't good." "God is not all powerful." etc. Boston reminds us that the Christian must resist this tendency. We must let God's own Word interpret our trials, not our feelings.
2. To endure suffering as God calls us to, we must SUBMIT.
The theme of submission and humility when suffering came up again and again throughout the book. Boston goes to great lengths to prove the doctrine of God's sovereignty and control over the "crooks" in our lot. While not excusing the reality of secondary causes in bringing about our sufferings, Boston always directs our gaze to God as the ultimate cause of everything that happens in our lives. "It is evident, from the scripture doctrine of divine providence, that God brings about every man's lot, and all the parts thereof."
At times, his language is so strong on this point that it made me uncomfortable, sometimes seeming to imply that there is no place in the Christian life to ever question God's ways or dealings with us. I wish that Boston would have given more treatment to some of the Psalms which model for us how to cry out to God with real struggle and perplexity (Psalm 13; 22; 73; etc). Neverthless, Boston's point is necessary for us, especially as Americans, to hear: If we are going to profit from our sufferings the way that God intends, we must humble ourselves before God and submit to his purposes in them.
Boston knows that this is a hard pill to swallow, and so he gives several motivations to help us submit under the yolk of suffering.
First, it is our duty to submit to God. "It (submission) is a duty you owe to God, as your sovereign Lord." An implication of this, Boston reminds us, is that if we do not submit to our sufferings we ultimately are fighting against God himself. "For since, the crook in their lot, which their unsubdued spirts can by no means submit to, is of God's making, this their practice must needs be a fighting against God: and their complaining and murmuring are indeed against him, whatever face they put upon them."
Second, we must humble ourselves before God and remember that God does not owe us anything: "Ah! May not He who made and fashioned us without our advice, be allowed to make our lot too, without asking our mind, but we must rise up against him on account of the crook made in it?" This is very hard, especially for Americans who tend to view God as a means to their personal happiness. Boston is reminding us of the very biblical truth that God is the creator, and we are his creation. He is absolutely holy, and we stand before him as guilty sinners who only deserve his wrath.
Third, we must remember that it is wise to submit when we cannot change our situation. "Is it not wisdom then to make the best we may of what we cannot mend? Make a virtue then of necessity. What is not to be cured must be endured, and should with a Christian resignation." As I was reading this point, I was reminded of an interview I read with Joni Earikson Tada. After months of depression and despair because of her paralyzing accident, she asked God: "If your not going to take this suffering away, teach me how to live with it."
Fourth, failure to submit will only make our suffering harder: "An awkward carriage under it notably increases the pain of it. What makes the yoke gall our necks, but that we struggle so much against it, and cannot let it sit at ease. How often are we, in that case, like men dashing their heads against a rock to remove it! The rock stands unmoved, but they are wounded, and lose exceedingly by their struggle... Impatience under the crook lays an over-weight on the burden, and makes it heavier, while withal it weakens us, and makes us less able to bear it."
Fifth, we must remind ourselves of the unsearchable wisdom of God. When facing suffering, we must know that "His ways are above our ways, his thoughts above our thoughts." Just because we cannot see a reason for suffering, does not mean that one does not exist.
Sixth, it is vital to remember the mercies of God to us in Jesus Christ. Our suffering does not come from the hand of an angry, unmerciful, tyrant. It comes from the hand of a loving father who did not withold his only Son from us (Romans 8:32).
Seventh, Boston urges us not to forget about heaven and the future glory that awaits us. A proper view of eternity will help us endure the sufferings in the present. "Had we a clearer view of the other world, we would not make so much of either the smiles or frowns of this."