“Don’t tell other people our business.” C. E. Rankin

Carl Trueman has written an excellent article on suffering entitled, Minority Report: Not in the Public Interest, which can be read in its entirety here. In it, he mentions the personal sufferings of John Owen:

“Owen had eleven children. Ten of them died before adulthood. The daughter who did survive was then involved in an unhappy marriage, returning to the parental home and then dying before her father. In other words, Owen lived to see the funeral of every single one of his eleven children.”

It beggars belief to think that such trauma did not have a huge impact on his life and thought: indeed, man-made persecution, horrible as it is, is arguably somewhat easier to accommodate than terminal illness within the context of faith since God is at least not the obvious, proximate cause; but death from illness has that random quality to it where God sometimes seems to be the only available culprit. Yet traumatic as these eleven deaths must have been, Owen makes no substantial reference to them in any of his major writings, and the reader can only speculate as to how exactly they may have caused him to rethink or revise his theology.”

Why did Owen say so little about his own personal sufferings in his writings and sermons? Trueman poses his own theory why he and others of that time period were silent about their own personal anguish:

“My inclination is to read their silence in another way: they simply did not regard their personal and private struggles, hurts, and tragedies as fulfilling any useful role in their public ministries. The death of Owen’s children must have been devastating to him, but life went on, he had a job to do, and whatever tears he and his wife shared and whatever cries of anger and confusion he sent God’s way in prayer, these were private matters and of no significant use in the public domain. Sure, they shaped him as a person and thus did have an impact on his public ministry, but not in terms of their immediate, personal particularity. They probably made him more sensitive when preaching on death or counseling a bereaved couple, but he saw no need to use himself as an illustration at every opportunity. Private grief and suffering was just that—private—and constantly talking about it from the pulpit was not in the public interest.”

As a self-absorbed baby boomer, living in a world of self-absorbed baby boomers (and busters and gen-xers are just as self-absorbed), I could learn much from John Owen. For that matter, I could also learn much from my Dad, who often said to us (his three kids), “Don’t tell other people our business.” As I read the last few lines of Trueman’s article, I finally began to understand why my Dad said that to us:

“This is not to say that personal suffering is insignificant, painless, or trivial; but it is to argue that talking about it should not be a major factor in our public lives as Christians. That can lead quickly to self-pity or even, in an age where victimhood is close to being the greatest virtue, to self-importance. My suffering matters to me; but frankly, it is of no interest or significance to anyone else but my immediate loved ones. Suffering and grief are generally private matters; so let’s keep them that way in order that we can use our public ministries for talking about God and the gospel.”


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