My wife miscarried in early 2013, which led us to wrestle with the question, “Where is God in the midst of suffering?” It is not easy. If anything else, however, Christianity is a religion which causes you to wrestle through such questions because at the center of the faith is the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians have been reflecting on such tough questions through all of church history.
Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, is one of the latest contributions which grapples with that question. I purposefully used the word “grapples” because Keller doesn’t offer trite cliches you can often hear from others when you are suffering. Rather, he very honestly looks at what Scripture has to say about suffering. Rather than rehashing the book, let me give you a few takeaways.
Keller makes a very good point that “no suffering is for nothing” (180). Even if you are suffering alone with no human watching, someone is watching! From examples to the angels and demons who saw Job suffering to the angels who desire to look in salvation (1 Peter 1:12), your suffering is seen. And this can bestow great meaning on suffering. If everything we do is watched, it surely infuses great meaning and purpose into everyday life, as well as our suffering. Not only do these spiritual beings see our suffering, but more importantly, God sees it. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering.
Keller also strongly debunks the notion that people should not fear death. Many secular people believe that death shouldn’t even be given a second thought because upon death, you just cease to exist. Keller argues, however, that death should be feared. He writes, “What is it that primarily gives your life meaning? Isn’t it relationships with the people you love? Can you really honestly say that you have no dread of a future state that will strip you of everything you hold dear now? Do your loved ones mean so little to you that you don’t care about being separated from them forever?” (36). Only Christianity has the resources to fully appreciate the dread of death, but also give hope to overcome it. Because Jesus ultimately defeated death through His resurrection, His people need not fear it. But the secular do not have that resource at their disposal. Be afraid; be very afraid.
In the midst of suffering, Keller advocates that Christian think! It might seem strange to advocate thinking deeply during difficult times. But reflecting on the core doctrines of the faith actually helps us endure suffering: “But think! Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did he really come to earth, die for you, rise again, and pass through the heavens to the right hand of God?…If so, then there is all the comfort in the world…Either Jesus is on the throne ruling all things for you or this is as good as it gets” (299). Keller even makes the point that deeper Bible study is often more useful during times of suffering than seeking out devotional “thoughts for the day.” Why? Because God’s peace comes through thinking, according to Philippians 4.
Buy, borrow, or bypass: Definitely buy this book. Having gone through a really difficult time, it helped me out a lot. This is Keller at his best: interacting with secular arguments, drawing practical application from Scripture, and ultimately pointing me back to Jesus Christ.