Why Pastors Should Engage Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot
Out of all Thomas Boston’s practical works, his short Crook in the Lot: The Sovereignty and Wisdom of God in the Afflictions of Men Displayed has had the most success since its publication. Written by someone who had both experienced ongoing trials in his own life (like his wife’s serious illnesses) and preached to those who were experiencing ongoing trials (like poverty), the Crook in the Lot presents the naked truth of what it’s like to be stuck in a bad situation that will probably never go away in this lifetime. Boston called this a crook in one’s lot, meaning that in one’s lot—or the “certain train or course of events” set in each person’s life by “the providence of God,” according to his will and good pleasure—there is often a crook that “fall[s] out cross to us . . . against the grain.” Pastors may be especially helped by Boston’s book because it reminds us that all believers come to church with a crook, and shows us that the best way to help them bear up under it is by teaching about God’s sovereignty in a way that realistically recognizes crooks may never be straightened in this life, but also provides real hope for today.
The Affliction: Everyone Has a Crook
According to Boston, everyone has a crook (or several), and just as every person with a unique lot in life has a crook, so are the crooks in their lots unique, potentially affecting many things from health (e.g., sickness), to honor (e.g., damage to one’s reputation) , to vocation (e.g., lack of success despite hard work), to relationships (e.g., death or disagreements). These crooks could be in one’s own life, or the life of a loved one. Though some may feel they are the only ones with a serious, ongoing issue, this is not true. Many crooks are invisible to others, but they still exist. Boston explains, “everyone feels for himself, where he is pinched, though others perceive it not.” Boston’s insightful identification and description of crooks can remind pastors that every person they preach to and speak with is experiencing a crook.
The Remedy: God is Sovereign
Since everyone has a crook or is close to someone who does, pastors must make sure they continually teach about the most central doctrine that aids believers in bearing up under their crooks, namely, God’s sovereignty. Based on Ecclesiastes 7:13, Boston argues that it is God who makes crooks and that what he sees fit to make crooked no one can make straight, which means that believers will be able to persevere if they understand that their crooks are from God.
God is Sovereign Over All Crooks
Though some may think their crooks are not made by God but sin, even these crooks are permitted, ruled over, and turned into good by God. In fact, Boston claims, God makes a crook for a specific purpose according to his plan. One may never know what this is, but part of that plan could be to prove salvation, motivate the fulfillment of a duty, convict of sin, or correct sin. Boston thinks that God sees where a person will turn away from him and makes a crook in that place, which is why many believers feel their crook “falls in the tender part; [meaning], that part of the lot wherein we are least able to bear it, or at least think so.”
Submit to God’s Sovereign Will
Since God is all-powerful, it is impossible to straighten what he has made crooked. This does not mean it is sinful to want or try to remove a crook, but that believers must learn that when fixing a problem goes beyond their natural abilities or responsibilities, they must trust that God will fix it in his time and they must submit to him while they wait. This includes first asking God to remove one’s crook, and then asking him for relief if he does not remove it. Figuring out if one should keep asking God to remove a crook requires wisdom, but regardless of the outcome, one should always monitor one’s attitude. The Bible teaches that it is actually better to be humbled under a crook because God comforts those who submit to him, since comfort from God brings unassailable peace. Click To Tweet Thus, Boston advises that you can tell if you are not bearing up under a crook properly if you are worrying or complaining to the point that it interrupts your daily life and responsibilities, or if you are not getting something good from a crook. Boston suggests that if you are struggling to overcome these negative attitudes, you can try “tak[ing] God in Christ for, and instead of, that thing, the withholding or taking away of which from you makes the crook in your lot” so that though you lose one thing you gain something better, or “look[ing] for the streams running as full from [God] as ever it did or could run, when the crook of the lot has dried it” because God is the ultimate source of good, or finding a way to use a crook to grow spiritual fruit like faith, love, and humility.
Focus on God, Not the Crook
Overall, Boston says, the best way to bear up under a crook is focusing on God and the good he is bringing instead of the crook itself. This could include thinking about how God brought good through the worst evil of Christ’s death, how God relates to believers as father and husband, or how a crook convicts believers of sin and makes them fit for heaven. From the world’s perspective, it is better to be proud and have what you want. But the Bible teaches that it is actually better to be humbled under a crook because God comforts those who submit to him, and comfort from God brings unassailable peace.
Lessons from Boston: Be Realistic and Hopeful
In sum, Boston writes about God’s sovereignty in a realistic and hopeful way, denying neither the ongoing nature of a crook nor the certainty that believers can have in knowing a crook is from God, for their good, and will one day be removed. These two attitudes are essential for teaching about God’s sovereignty to someone who is hurting. On the one hand, believers who have been suffering with the same problem for years will not comforted by empty truisms. In fact, this could lead to more frustration and even disillusionment. Thus, one of the most encouraging things to do when a crook cannot be fixed by human effort is recognize the depth of the person’s pain and the real hopelessness they have regarding their own ability to straighten a crook. On the other hand, believers who have endured ongoing suffering are in desperate need of ongoing hope that they can access on a daily basis. Just as denying the severity of a problem can lead to frustration, so does not finding hope lead to despondency. Thus, in addition to recognizing the real problem, pastors must also remind believers of the real hope that is immediately available by focusing on how great and good God is, and how comforts the afflicted.
 Thomas Boston The Crook in the Lot: What To Believe When Our Lot in Life is Not Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2017), 4.
 Boston, Crook in the Lot, 5.
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 Boston, Crook in the Lot, 48.