How Do We Walk With God Amidst Pain and Suffering?
Review by Christina Butterton
In one single moment your life can fall right through your fingers like sand at the beach. You may have even felt like a stout rock before bursting into thousands of microscopic fragments. Once this has happened you wonder; how will I ever become whole again? Timothy Keller has through much research and determination written Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. This book takes you on a journey through facts, personal experience, and people’s personal stories of suffering. There are three main sections to this book: first is looking at the furnace; second is living in the furnace; third is walking with God through the furnace. For every section I will give you a brief overview and a concept I applied to my life.
Looking at the furnace:
The furnace, Keller describes, is basically the people, situations, and life we are a part of. He delves into several different belief systems to give a background on how our modern views, customs, and what we deem socially acceptable in the United States came to be. Through his rigorous studies on the subject Keller concludes; the only thing we all really have in common in the USA is self-interest. This secular belief heavily contradicts the unselfish nature of Christianity, so self-interest makes us challenge our faith in God during times of suffering.
There are two concepts Keller talks about which spoke to me. First, one of Keller’s points about Martin Luther’s biblical theologies found in Luther’s Works, the act of suffering must empty us and lead us to Christ. Second, Keller’s summation of There’s More to Life than being Happy, “you have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal freedom and happiness, something for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness” (Keller, p71).
I have felt repugnant emptiness during times of pain in my life. I never knew how to correctly fill my soul’s void. In these times of emptiness, I would always reach to my bible, hold it spine down, and pray for a direction to God. I would let the bible open to a random page as if it were divine intervention, and I would read it. Through this, I would always find some way to be happy. I thought it would be a fix all, a one-and-done solution. Learning that the pursuit of my happiness is my own personal gain, made me realize how much I was doused in secular beliefs. I was so wrong. Me searching for happiness in the greatest book was not ever me being truly open to the meaning in my life beyond my self-interest. It was selfishness, and I am learning to see beyond that.
Living in the Furnace:
This was my favorite section of the book. This section of the book is about choosing a direction. Do you think to yourself, “God owes us a good life,” (Keller, p115) or do you think “why, in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?” (Keller, p115). When you are suffering greatly from pain, loss, or wounded pride do you become a greater person or a worse person? These are your only real choices once tragedy strikes you. Finally, you need to know pain and suffering will be in your life. Will you teach your brothers and sisters to be prepared or fall to the wayside in grief?
Keller talks about how suffering strips our pride and shows us our fragility. It shows us our weaknesses because it brings out the worst in us. It will change our relationships, strengthen them, and make us useful to other people who suffer. This is easier said than done. I work through chronic pain every day because of a work injury. The moment I realized my life could no longer be or go back to the way it was before ripped me down. It was really terrifying to see myself emotionally naked for the first time. I thought I had fallen off the wagon with no hope of getting back on. The idea of being a greater person by making my suffering useful has helped me to come to terms with my new life. I now feel like I will find my purpose in time.
Walking with God through the Furnace:
This last section’s main concept is let God be God. Accept him when he answers your prayers and when he does not. Love him like a friend through thick and thin. God is like everyone’s mentor. He leads us, pushes us, and pulls us back if we have gone too far. Sometimes we see why God pushes us, and other times we do not. Everything he does is for the restoration of humanity.
“Paul conveys a comfort to others that he received from God” (Keller, p295). In Philippians 4 Paul talks about how he has learned to be content with all circumstances and how the peace of God is with all of us. In the peace of God Keller says we learned two things: “first, it is an inner calm and equilibrium. […] The second thing Paul tells us is that this peace is not merely an absence - it is a presence” (Keller, p296). My life is filled with many moments of being alone and in physical pain. This lesson from Paul via Keller made me realize every single moment of pain I go through, I am not alone, and I will be okay. I will probably never be rid of my physical pain and isolation, but I will be content in His presence.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is suffering, had a tragedy happen in their life, or will struggle eventually. It brings an understanding through great knowledge and wisdom from literally hundreds of different and diverse sources.
Keller, T. walking with god for pain and suffering. Penguin books. New York, New York. 2013.