About 1-in-5 people in the USA live with some type of physical disability; 10 million people a year experience a serious mental illness; and 1-in-6 Americans struggle with chronic health conditions, leading to roughly 65 million Americans providing care for someone with a disability or chronic illness.
From singer, artist, radio host, and bestselling author Joni Eareckson Tada and the experts at Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability comes the first Bible with study notes that address the topics of disability and suffering. The new Beyond Suffering Bible (website) will release from Joni and Friends and Tyndale House Publishers this October. It’s a combination of both a study Bible and a devotional Bible, with knowledge and insight gleaned from the Scriptures, as well as encouraging words from a wide array of top Christian experts who are often the “go-to” resources when people are looking for direction or next steps when ministering to individuals with disabilities, pain, addiction, and suffering.
Why is this Bible needed?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Suffering always prompts heart-wrenching questions: if God is good, why would He allow this pain in my life? Is God truly sovereign over accidents and birth anomalies, or does the devil set the world’s agenda? How do I counsel people who are despairing of their condition? What are the right choices when it comes to assisted-suicide and other tough ethical issues? For that matter, where does a person struggling with a life-altering accident or illness find peace of mind and a purpose for living?
The answer is the Word of God. Now, most people who suffer realize that the Bible contains answers for their plight; they just don’t know where to look. This was my story shortly after the 1967 diving accident in which I became paralyzed—even in my despair, I knew in a vague way that the Bible held hope for me in its pages. I just didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully, God brought wise Christian friends alongside to help me discover life-transforming precepts in his Word. The Beyond Suffering Bible can be that “wise Christian friend,” helping those affected by disability grasp the goodness of God amidst critical questions about pain and hardship.
Why have you included the word “Beyond” in the title?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Many people in the throes of suffering, disappointment, and despair, feel utterly stuck in their circumstances. They see no hope beyond their day-to-day drudgery of disability routines; but when hurting families place themselves under the shower of God’s mercy, suddenly the clouds part. They realize there’s hope, life, and even joy beyond their suffering. “Beyond” is a word that beautifully reflects Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” What a powerful promise for those who suffer and their caregivers!
Since you’re not a biblical language scholar, what perspective do you bring to this Bible as its general editor?
Joni Eareckson Tada: When it comes to this particular study Bible, there’s great value in a general editor who has an intimate knowledge of life-altering, gut-wrenching affliction. As general editor, I rely on scholars more gifted than I when it comes to the Beyond Suffering Bible’s copious study notes and commentaries—yet even these contributing scholars are acquainted with disability!
The success of God’s Word in our lives is linked intrinsically to our application of its truth. The point behind the Beyond Suffering Bible is to help the reader move biblical insights from the intellect into their daily grappling with affliction and hardship. And as general editor, I want the reader to understand that every commentary, study note, personal profile, and word of counsel is offered up by individuals who are not only skilled in God’s Word, but skilled in applying it when disability feels utterly devastating.
How does the emphasis of this Bible answer the ancient question of why God allows suffering?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Most people wish they could erase suffering out of the dictionary. Today’s culture of comfort and instant gratification has no patience for suffering—most people want to drug it, escape it, divorce it; do anything but live with it. Yet suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. As I often say, “God permits what he hates, to accomplish what he loves.” I can’t think of a better answer to the ancient question of suffering. Even at the cross, God permitted what he hated—the unjust and agonizing death of his own precious Son—in order to accomplish something he prized above his own Son’s cruel death; that is, salvation for a world of sinners. So the world’s worst murder becomes the world’s only salvation.
The Beyond Suffering Bible takes this powerful truth and relates it to our personal struggle with suffering. True, God hates Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, mental illness, autism, and the rest (these conditions are all symptoms of the Fall). Yet he permits these things to accomplish something far more precious in our lives: patience, endurance, compassion for others who hurt, and refined faith and trust in God, to name a few.
What features are included in this Bible and how do they contribute to a better understanding of suffering?
Joni Eareckson Tada: One special feature is Faith in Action: Biblical and Contemporary Profiles. The truths of the Bible are never just abstract concepts; they’re always related to real people. So throughout the Beyond Suffering Bible readers will enjoy stories of those whose lives have been touched by suffering and transformed by God’s Word. Some of these are people who are named on the pages of the Bible, but others are contemporary individuals—some well known, others just ordinary people with extraordinary lessons to share with the reader.
It always helps to know that other parents with special-needs children are surviving, and surviving well. Faint hearts are encouraged when they read about others who, despite amputation, spinal cord injury, or psychiatric disorders have a vibrant trust and confidence in God.
How does this Bible approach modern ethical issues related to suffering, such as stem cell research and euthanasia?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Many good Christians are confused about complex social issues of our day, such as doctor-assisted death or medical research which uses stem cells from human embryos. They wonder, ‘Why shouldn’t science use discarded fetuses for research?’ And if someone finds his medical condition intolerable and hopeless, ‘why shouldn’t he have the legal right to end his life?’ Although the Bible does not address these issues in particular, it does provide guiding insights. Sometimes, however, we need help in “connecting the dots” biblically, and the Beyond Suffering Bible provides that guidance. It underscores the scope and extent of what it means to bear the image of God, and how that makes all life sacred. Once the reader firmly grasps the truth of human exceptionalism under our Creator God, then the answers to confusing cultural issues begin to be clear.
What do you mean when you say after years of suffering you believe God allows one form of evil to expose another form of evil?
Joni Eareckson Tada: God turns on its head one form of evil—suffering—in order to defeat another form of evil—that is, our transgressions. It happened at the cross, and it occurs in the lives of followers of Christ every day. For instance, I deal daily with chronic pain and, at times, my pain feels like a lemon that God “squeezes,” revealing my sour attitude, peevish spirit, and tendency to complain or grumble. Did not God use my pain to expose my sin, I might—like many of us—not be aware of the sin of which I’m capable. But we’re not the paragons of virtue that we’d all like to think we are. And so, to shatter that myth, God will use suffering to expose the stuff of which we’re made.
We’ve got to remember that the core of Christ’s plan is to rescue us from sin. Our pain, poverty, and broken hearts are not his ultimate focus. True, he cares about these things, but they’re merely symptoms of the real problem.
God cares most not about making us comfortable, but about teaching us to hate our transgressions and to grow up spiritually to love him. In other words, God lets us continue to feel much of sin’s sting through suffering while we’re heading for heaven. This constantly reminds us of what we’re being delivered from; exposing sin for the poison it is.
What Bible passages do you see as especially helpful when in the throes of suffering?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Often when people are diagnosed with a life-changing medical condition, they feel overwhelmed. They feel choked by darkness and hopelessness. Those are times when answers simply do not suffice. That’s because answers don’t always reach the problem where it hurts: in the gut and in the heart. God knows this, and so he gives us Ecclesiastes 3:4 which speaks of a time to weep and mourn. In Romans 12:15 we’re told to “mourn with those who mourn.”
It’s why when I feel overwhelmed by chronic pain, I’m always helped by Isaiah 50:10 — “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” This scripture reminds me that the Bible isn’t quick to give answers; it mainly gives the Answer. When we hurt, God doesn’t always give us lots of words; he gives us the Word; the Word made flesh who is intimately acquainted with our grief and suffering. That’s what helps the most.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Joni Eareckson Tada: I’m constantly using Bible Gateway during my writing and research. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it provides countless translations to pull from. It really is a ‘one stop shopping’ place for all my reference work!
Bio: Joni Eareckson Tada is founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian outreach in the disability community. Joni and Friends provides practical support and spiritual help to special needs families worldwide, and equips thousands of churches in developing disability ministry. Joni is the author of numerous bestselling books, including Joni: An Unforgettable Story, Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story, Diamonds in the Dust, Heaven, When God Weeps, A Lifetime of Wisdom, A Place of Healing, Life in the Balance, Making Sense of Suffering, and A Step Further, winner of the Gold Medallion Award. Joni and her husband, Ken, have been married for over 30 years.