I am not given to hyperbole. I’m the guy who starts a debate when someone uses words like “ever” or “all.” But here goes with a strong statement anyway. As a pastor, who who shepherds people, I would assert that Tim Keller’s book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is unquestionably one of the best books I have ever read.
I could probably list 20 reasons why I think Keller’s book is so good and so important. But below are the top nine reasons.
After the first point, the list is basically in order of increasing importance. Some of the reasons overlap with others.
- Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering takes on the most difficult question of life. To be considered one of the best books ever, the book has to be about an area of vital importance. For example, The Brothers Karamazov is considered to be one of the greatest novels because it tackles the tough questions. Likewise, Keller doesn’t duck the hard questions. Why is there pain and suffering? How can we live through pain? Is there really hope? How could we ever get over the loss of someone we love? Why does Christianity offer the right and best answers.
- Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering includes stories of people who have endured agony. We need to consider the question of suffering from academic angles, but we also need real life examples. Keller includes those. Most chapters end with account of someone who has endured suffering more than most of us will face. These stories show how Christ is sufficient whatever our lot and bear witness to the grace of God.
- Keller quotes great hymns and poetry. One of the points I will make this fall when preaching on suffering is that we desperately need the Psalms if we are to walk with God through suffering. Poetry involves both our minds and emotions – – and helps us to move to a different place. For more, see Memorize a Psalm in Order to Be Moved Emotionally.
- Keller considers suffering from multiple angles and disciplines. Some books on suffering are devotional. Others are philosophical. Still others are theological. Keller consciously makes the decision to consider suffering from each of these perspectives. This book could only be written by someone who is able to consider the intersection of real life suffering, deep theology, and mind blowing philosophy. There are only a handful of people alive who can do this. Keller is one of them.
- Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering describes how people of the 20-21st century uniquely view suffering. The worldview of our culture is dramatically different than it was for people 1,000 years ago. Going much further back than 1000 years, we view suffering far differently than Job who lived before the time of Christ. If we are to understand how to walk with God through pain and suffering, then we need to understand our own culturally conditioned mindset. Keller traces the developments of Western thought and helps us understand ourselves.
- Keller responsibly engages “the Problem of Evil in a way that is accessible to readers who have no training in theology and philosophy. The problem of evil is the most demanding question we face intellectually. Derek Thomas, for instance, says this is the most troubling and perplexing question we ever face. John Stott adds, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” Briefly stated, the “problem of evil” is the question of how it can be simultaneously true that: (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, (3) Evil exists. Keller summarizes some of the best thinking in a way that most will be able to find their way through if they are willing to work at it.
- Keller teaches and models apologetics. Apologetics is the branch of theology that deals with giving reasons for Christian hope. So when someone says, “there can’t be a god because of suffering and evil,” and when we respond to that statement, we are doing apologetics. Keller gives examples of both how to think about such questions, but also the tone to use when engaging them. He takes on the best attempts of atheists to show why the problem of evil proves or makes it unlikely that there is no God. In a way accessible to most readers, Keller then shows how those arguments are self-defeating.
- Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is Scripture saturated. Keller summarizes Job, points to the Psalms over and over again in ways that will make the reader want to spend time in the Psalter, shows us the relevance of 1 Peter and Revelation, and does exposition of the writings of the Apostle Paul. If you do nothing other than read aloud the Bible passages that Keller points to, you will be blessed. But if you engage with his careful exposition, then you will profit eternally.
- Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is Christ-Centered – Most important, Keller is thoroughly focused on the One true answer to suffering. Keller compares Christ to Job:
We don’t need a voice out of the storm. Rather, we need to know that Jesus Christ bowed his head into the greatest storm — the storm of divine justice — for us, so we can hear a voice of love from the holy God. he took the condemnation we deserves so God can accept us. For Jesus is the ultimate Job, the only truly innocent sufferer. Jesus “was willing to live the life of Job to its ultimate conclusion. He was willing to die while considered by friend and foe alike to be a fool, a blasphemer, even a criminal — powerless to save himself.” As Job was “naked,” penniless, and in physical pain (Job 1:21), so Jesus was homeless, stripped naked, and tortured on the cross. While Job was relatively innocent, Jesus was absolutely, perfectly innocent, and while Job felt God abandoning him, Jesus actually experienced the real absence of God, as well as the betrayal of his foolish friends and the loss of family. In the Garden of Gethsamane, Jesus saw that if he obeyed God fully, he’d be absolutely abandoned by God and, essentially, destroyed in hell. No one else has ever faced such a situation. Only Jesus truly “served God for nothing.” (293).