Once every 5 years or so I stumble across a book that radically challenges, breaks down, and shifts a thought or belief system running deeply within my existence. The last book like that for me was probably Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, which, I might add, contained a radical concept for me to process at that time. Several years later, I find myself feeling a similar “enlightenment” (I don’t mean that to sound selfish, I’ll discuss later) after concluding Tullian Tchividjian’s Glorious Ruin: how suffering sets you free. Now if you intend on tuning me out, please just hear me on this: Glorious Ruin is an incredible book that I would recommend to anyone who wrestles with the sin and brokenness that is so prevalent in our world today. Go out and buy a copy for yourself because I promise you that if you spend time really processing its message, it will have a tremendous impact on your heart and mind.
For those of you who have decided to stick it out for the rest of this review, thank you. I hope this will be a valuable use of your time. I know that some people might be quick to judge the title of Tchividjian’s new book and thinking something like; “Great, another self-help book.” Hardly. In this book you won’t find a six step guide to unlocking some sort of feeling or sensation. You won’t find a ritual to follow for coping with a particular situation. You won’t find clinical research with some empirical jargon. What you will find is something much more meaningful. Let me explain.
Pastor Tullian tackles the issue of suffering and how God meets us in it, ultimately works through it, and uses it to point us to what his son, Jesus did on the cross. He begins by distinguishing two very different theologies that are present in our world today; the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. The theology of glory views the cross, or any suffering for that matter, as a means to an end or a path to some improvement. Basically it’s saying “X happened and it was really bad but I learned a lot from it, I will be able to avoid it next time, or it happened because of something I did to deserve it.” To quote Tchividjian directly “A sign that you are operating with a theology of glory is when your faith feels like a fight against [ongoing sin and lack of transformation] instead of a resource for accepting them.” The theology of the cross, on the other hand, identifies God hidden in suffering and at work in our hardship as a reality of Christian life. It involves accepting difficulty instead of trying to change or exploit it. The cross is not a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. The grace given to us through Jesus laying down his own, innocent life, happened in spite of anything that we have ever done, are doing, or ever will do and it doesn’t change.
Glorious Ruin continues with an examination of the sorts of behaviors and habits we have that keep us from understanding and accepting the true grace that comes from the cross. There’s a chapter on how we tend to minimize suffering; down playing bad circumstances because they aren’t as relatively painful as what others experience. There’s a chapter on how we tend to moralize suffering. We take on this Oprah-like attitude that somehow suffering is actually good and good for us. There’s also a section that tackles our belief that suffering is a karmic payback for our indiscretions. In each, Tchividjian brings readers back to one thing, God’s grace delivered through Christ’s death and resurrection. He convincingly argues that our desire to make bad out to be good, to exhibit positive control of our circumstances, and to compartmentalization everything breaks down before the cross.
I found Glorious Ruin to be particularly enlightening, not because I was selfishly looking to have some greater, more elaborate understanding of the Gospel message, but because it connected with the things that I’ve experienced. This book helped me realize that the many times in my life when I told myself my suffering would make me stronger or that others were a lot worse off so I should just shut my mouth, were really a way that I had attempted to take control over my situation. Each time I essentially and unwittingly communicated that I was responsible for and capable of rectifying the chaos of my brokenness as a sinful being. In reading Glorious Ruin, I realized that I was really missing the true power of grace. I hadn’t internalized the fact that God’s mercy on me was the end and not a means to an end. It became clear that grace wasn’t given so that we might become greater, but so that we could understand how messed up and in need of God we are.
So with that being said, I just want to conclude my review of Glorious Ruin a little differently than I’ve closed some of my other reviews. I want to thank Pastor Tullian for writing this book for his gift for communication really shed light on some important things for me. I also want to say that I’m truly grateful for God’s timing because this book came into my life just when I needed it most. I hope that you who are reading this will pick up a copy, read it, and learn from it. Then go back to into the Bible and your faith journey with an enlightened perspective and a thankful spirit for what we’ve been given; all that we need and more than what we deserve.
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