On my last trip out to Bakersfield, I read Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. There are books that touch your heart and others that shape your thoughts. This book was one of the rare ones that was able to do both at the same time. On one hand it had an academic feel to it, discussing various theories on suffering from a psychology and theological perspective and at the same time, it engaged the heart through stories of real people who either were or are engaged in intense periods of suffering so that we can learn from what they are going through. So this book is more than an academic, cold and disengaged appeal to logic that is disconnected from reality. This book comes out of the heart of a man who is clearly strong both theologically and pastorally. In other words, Keller knows the scriptures and he knows people. He brings that combination to this book and I am better for having read it.
Here is how Keller describes how this book makes a unique contribution to the discussion of theodicy, human suffering and the existence of God,
“As I read books of evil and suffering, it became clear that most volumes treated the subject mainly from just one perspective. Many books used the philosophical perspective, weighing the ‘problem of evil’ and whether it made the existence of God more or less likely or Christianity more or less plausible. Others took a theological approach, distilling and assembling all the biblical themes and teachings about pain and suffering. Finally, many books took a devotional approach, writing a series of meditations designed to help actual sufferers in the midst of their grief. There was also a smaller number of articles and books that took both a historical and an anthropological approach, examining how different cultures have helped its members face troubles and trials. The more I read, the clearer it became that these various perspectives informed one another, and that any treatment that confined itself to only one vantage point left far too many unanswered questions.
And so I have divided the book into three parts, each part looking at the issue using somewhat different tools. What unites them is the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace….
In the first part of the book, we will look at the ‘furnace’ from the outside–the phenomenon of human suffering, as well as the various ways that different cultures, religions, and eras in history have sought to help people face and get through it…
The second part of the book moves away from more theoretical issues and begins to digest all that the Bible says about the character of suffering…
Finally the third part of the book provides the most practical material.” (Keller, 8-9)
So the book has something for everyone. It has the tools to prepare you for suffering if you haven’t. It has the tools to help you deal with suffering if you are in the middle of it right now. The book would even help in reflecting on past suffering and understanding the formative nature of suffering either for the better or for the worse.
I highly recommend this book. This is one of those books I will pick up and read again in a year to let it soak in once again. Thank you Tim Keller for helping me attempt to wrap my mind around our suffering Savior and how that tension helps us reconcile and alleviate many of our reservations concerning our present suffering and how it might otherwise adversely affect our faith.
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a couple of weeks, putting it off as long as I could. I can’t say that I’m a big Keller fan. I’ve listened to a few of his sermons, and he seems to be more apologist than preacher. And I’m always leery of reformed pastors, finding those darn TULIP’s in every verse in the bible. But I have to say that I agree with you on this book. It does tend towards the academic side, but not to the point of distraction. I doubt that I will be holding on to it for long since I am certain to be loaning it out again and again.
Thank you for this review, Matt. Another tool in walking through suffering with someone is Robert Kellemen’s “God’s Healing in Life’s Losses.” I’m not sure how it compares with Keller because I haven’t read Keller, but Kellemen’s a workbook for sufferers and those who walk with them. It’s not heavy on doctrine, but it is solid. A link: https://amzn.to/1f4Bl7S
Blessings on your ministry out here on the West Coast!
Appreciate the recommendation! Also, thanks for the welcome.