• 23 October 2023

Chapter 5 – The Crook in the Lot

‘Consider what God has done: who can straighten what he has made crooked?’ (Ecc. 7:13). The Scottish church leader Thomas Boston wrote a wonderful book on suffering, or, as he called it ‘the crook in the lot’, which I have found amazingly helpful. Boston was a pastor and lived a very obscure life in the tiny Scottish border town of Ettrick. He was well acquainted with suffering and the book is permeated with deep wisdom from the many sufferings that came into his ‘lot’.

His church was hostile towards his ministry and deeply divided. His wife, Catherine, was a chronic depressive. Of their ten children, six died in infancy. They had already buried one child called Ebenezer (which means, ‘Up to now God has helped us’) when they had another son. Should they risk calling him Ebenezer also, given the tragically ironic nature of the name if he also died? They did name him Ebenezer and he also died.

What does Boston have to say? Boston argues that God deliberately allows each of us to have a ‘crook’, that is, something that pains us or causes us problems in our ‘lot’, that is, our life. God often causes this special trial to be the very thing that most rivals Him in our life. So, for example, if we are proud and self-sufficient then it might be a dangerous illness that makes us trust in Him and realise our own helplessness.

Think of the rich young ruler whom Jesus commanded to sell all he had. Jesus knew that money was the thing keeping him from faith.

God, the loving Father, trains us as a father trains his children to be more like Himself. He causes us to be aware of sin that is in us and needs removing. None of this means that we suffer because we have been particularly sinful. That may be so, but Boston argues the exact opposite: that all Christians will find a ‘crook in their lot’.

What’s the remedy? Firstly, praying for God to help. If God put the crook in then he can it out. He is intensely loving and sympathetic to us in our sufferings. ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust’ (Ps. 103:13–14).

God uses our crooks to draw us to Himself, to make us pray. I find that true in my own life. God may want to straighten us rather than straighten the crook. If God is speaking to us through out suffering, we need to first listen to what He says, while praying that He will remove it. We must not confuse this with fatalism. We are not helplessly swept around by the currents of life, like a leaf on a river, but are being expertly steered by a helmsman who loves us and died for us.

We need faith and humility. Faith, in that we believe that suffering is not random, but that God has a purpose in all that happens to us. ‘A wise eyeing of the hand of God in all that we find hard to bear,’ as Thomas Boston describes it.4 For some of us, that truth is very hard to understand. For some of us it may only be when we meet the Lord face to face that we finally understand it.

And above all we need humility. Perhaps the most used verse by Boston is, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (1 Pet. 5:6–7). Both verses are linked. If we realise that God is the God of the whole universe, that we, in the cosmic scheme of things, are utterly nothing but weak and sinful creatures, then we will see God as he is and ourselves as we are, and, as a result, we will come to God in our time of need for help and will find Him full of mercy.

God, most of all, wants to make us like Jesus. He went through the most terrible crook of all. He, despite being sinless, suffered on the cross for our sins.

* Thomas Boston, The Crook in the Lot (Banner of Truth, 2017), p. 2.

Excerpt from Hope in the face of suffering – 20 devotions for tough times by Jeremy Marshall

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