Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering, by Timothy Keller
This is another sort of book that is an occupational hazard of being a Christian of a particular personal background. For fairly transparently obvious personal reasons, I tend to read a lot of books that struggle with the question of divine providence and the reason why bad things happen to people who are more or less innocent as far as human beings are concerned. And it is not always that one reads this sort of book for the answers, for the answers are generally rather similar. One reads to get the thought process of someone dealing with questions of suffering, and one can learn a lot from the way that someone approaches the issue. As it happens, the author manages to deal pretty well with the problem at hand. He talks about his own experiences with suffering, goes into both biblical stories as well as personal stories from friends and acquaintances, some of whom have harrowing tales of crippling illnesses and injuries and the horrors of rape and other forms of abuse, that demonstrate a view that is concerned both with truth as well as compassion. And that makes this book a standout in a crowded field of books that all have fairly similar positions on the defense of God’s goodness in the face of the evils and suffering people have to endure.
This book of a bit more than 300 pages is divided into three sections. After an introduction about the rumble of panic below everything relating to suffering, the author provides four chapters on understanding the furnace of pain (I) with a discussion of various cultural views of suffering (1), the victory of Christianity over pain and suffering (2), the challenge pain and suffering offers to the secular world (3), and the problem of evil (4). The author then moves his focus to a discussion of how people face the furnace (II) with chapters on the challenge suffering offers to faith (5), the question of the sovereignty of God (6), the suffering of God as Jesus Christ (7), and the reason for suffering (8), as well as the way we learn how to walk in pain (9) and the varieties of suffering that exist (10). Finally, the author concludes with a discussion about how we walk with God in the furnace of pain just like Daniel’s three friends (III) with chapters on walking (11), weeping (12), trusting (13), praying (14), thinking, thanking, and loving (15), and hoping (16), after which there is an epilogue, acknowledgments, and notes.
There are a lot of reasons and ways that the author accounts for suffering. He notes that some suffering happens as a result of sins, some suffering happens as a prophylactic against sin (as was the case for Joseph), and that some suffering is meant for redemption and has nothing to do with our sinful nature per se. The author comments on the challenge of the book of Job when it comes to examining suffering, although he could easily have discussed other examples (like the rape of Dinah or Tamar or the situation of the blind man in John 9). The author clearly could have gone into greater detail but his choice to ground his discussion of suffering in personal experience, personal stories of others, as well as the Bible makes this a pretty obvious example of a book that aims to strike at the heart of readers and not only with the intellectual knowledge of what the Bible says. The author also clearly points out that some of the contemporary challenges we in the Church face when it comes to suffering is the fact that many Christian congregations do not equip people well to deal with those who are suffering and mourning and the fact that many mistaken views of Christians have to do with their believe in a benign God having given a universe meant for the present pleasure of the faithful. Our universe is not such a place.