This blog was started back in April and the two topics that have been most read over these past months have been on the topics of depression and suffering. Suffering is a big and relevant topic for so many people because we all suffer, some at different levels and intensity than other, but suffering nonetheless.
A number of years ago I read Walking with God through pain and suffering and I remember how good a book it was, both intellectually challenging but also written with pastoral warmth and care. I recently had to re-read the book for my Bachelor of Theology degree and was reminded of how good and relevant this book is, therefore, here’s a wee review.
If you have spent any length of time around me you would have heard me recommend at least one of Tim Keller’s books by now, he is a great author who has written so many books that have challenged and changed a lot of people. Keller can be quite an academic read, and this book is no different, but his books are also very practical and helpful, full of great insights into culture, hurt and living as a Christian, he even makes the academic side of his books interesting and dare I say exciting!
Keller has split this book into three sections so that the reader can start with whichever section is most relevant to their particular situation. If you want to know about suffering from a general / cultural perspective read part one, if you want to think through the theory of suffering that engages both with the Bible and other people’s writings read part two, and if you want to read words of comfort as you suffer read part three. The thing that connects all three section is the image of a fiery furnace, a furnace can be a place of torment and pain, but it can also be a place of refining.
Keller has been a minister for many years and when you read this book, particularly parts two and three, you get a glimpse of a man who really cares for people.
Part one is a general overview of the topic of suffering and specifically how different cultures and different worldviews approach the topic. In the West we have bought into a comfortable lifestyle and state of mind, we aren’t happy unless we are pain and suffering free and we are happy all the time. We think that pain and suffering is something that should be avoided, which it should, and that it has no purpose other than to ruin our lives and our comfort.
When people suffer they question everything ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ or ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘how can there be a God if I’m suffering?’, but Keller speaks about other cultures and their responses to suffering. Keller says that
“When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were”
This is a big shock to our culture which tells us that we are who we want to be, we decide everything about our person and that nothing outside of ourselves can determine who we are, we think that suffering is bad and shouldn’t be in our lives because we don’t like it and therefore it needs to be gone. However, so many other cultures and societies across the world see suffering as part of everyday life and they see it as an opportunity to grow and learn. Keller then speaks about the Christian worldview and its response to suffering and its response to the problem of evil in the world. This book doesn’t stop at a philosophical look at suffering, but it goes on in parts two and three to give the reader a theological framework and practical help to work through suffering.
In part two, Keller looks at the topics of pain and suffering through the lens of Christianity, showing how the Bible has much to say to the topics. However, his approach is not cold or analytical but he writes as someone who has helped others through suffering and has been through it himself. The bible has much to say on the topics of pain and suffering and Keller does a great job of pulling many of those references together to help the reader have a Biblical understanding of what suffering is, why people suffer and how to view suffering as a Christian.
In part three, Keller shows how Christians can apply the Bible’s teaching to their own suffering. Keller’s books can be academic, they can sometimes be hard to read but they are never severed form his pastoral heart for people, and for his desire for people to cling to Christ in all circumstances.
This book has examples of people who have suffered or who are suffering and it gives the reader hope that God is sovereign, that God is there and that there is a purpose, even if we don’t know what that purpose is.
I have recommended this book to so many people and I highly recommend it to you, my readers. This book has helped me over the years as I have come to terms with my own pain and issues, and I hope that if you are suffering that this book will help you too as it points you to Jesus. This is the best book on pain and suffering that I have read, and I do not say that lightly!