Leslie Montgomery is no stranger to suffering. Not only does she counsel others through their trials as member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, her life is marked by several difficult trials of her own. Redemptive Suffering: Lessons Learned from the Garden of Gethsemane is a book birthed from Montgomery’s own intense suffering. Montgomery’s desire is to help the reader meet Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, see His suffering, examine the decisions He made in the garden, and observe how Jesus rejoiced in his suffering. With Jesus and his disciples as examples, Montgomery seeks to illustrate how believers can be strengthened in their own gardens of Gethsemane.
Montgomery begins by explaining how all people suffer and process grief differently. However, because Jesus has experienced suffering just as we have, all can look to Jesus as an example and as a friend who understands our own particular suffering. Not only is He our example, Montgomery shares that Jesus is also our necessity when we are suffering.
Using the geography of Jerusalem, the surrounding area, and other important biblical locations, Montgomery illustrates the importance of the choices we make during a time of suffering. Choices such as whether we walk alone or with a companion, whether we choose the easy road of self-protection or the more difficult road that leads straight to suffering. “Let me assure you that you stand at a crucial crossroads in your healing in the midst of difficult circumstances, and your choice will inevitably determine your outcome.” Montgomery opens herself up, sharing various details of her lowest moments, like her attempted suicide, the tough questions with which she wrestled, and how she learned that faith, hope and a strong spiritual vision are important to living well.
She ends with a heartfelt conclusion for believers to expect suffering, to prepare for suffering through memorizing God’s word and prayer, and to enjoy those times when life is free of suffering.
About midway to the end, Montgomery begins to sound more like a self-help and name-it-and-claim-it philosopher. Her encouragements to realize the wonderful purpose that God has for our lives ring rather hollow. Thankfully, she does not dwell here for long. She moves on to the spiritual aspects of our suffering. More specifically, she believes that “the believer is at war.” Like Judas, who betrayed Jesus and was possessed by the devil, those closest to us can be used by Satan to cause our suffering. Because of this, Montgomery explains how believers must learn how to put on the armor of God and prepare for battle against our enemy. This chapter disappointed me. Montgomery ignores God’s sovereignty over the devil and places too much emphasis on an individual’s faith and ability to utilize “the power of Jesus at our hand”.
Another troubling aspect of her instruction regarding “warfare” is her use of prayer. She writes, “When we pray, God makes us alert to what is happening around us. When we pray, the Spirit of God teaches us, leads us, and reveals to us the strategies of the enemy.” She does not give great mention to prayer as a means of grace, but as a tool for our own use for gaining insight. She does not make much of the grace of God available to us in our suffering. Furthermore, she never delves into the purposes of God behind our suffering, she makes no mention of His hand governing all things in the lives of His children, even our suffering, and working them for our good.
Her treatment of forgiveness is weak as well. Her writing lacks the punch of rejoicing in the victory that is forgiveness. Rather than fully trusting God to make all things right and good, she differentiates between the spiritual aspects of forgiveness and our actions that demonstrate that forgiveness. She says that we can forgive from the heart and still seek damages and reparations from our foes through whatever civil means are available. This flies in the face of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians.
Leslie Montgomery makes some good points in Redemptive Suffering. Her story is interesting and she has an obvious passion for helping people. Montgomery describes suffering quite well. However, there are extra-biblical aspects to her encouragements in dealing with suffering that would prevent me from recommending this particular book. There are better books for the suffering Christian available.