Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering
Timothy Keller, Hodder & Stoughton (2015)
Reading Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is one of those experiences that you sense, in the moment, that you are not quite fully understanding but that you instantly know in your deep self is critically important, for you as an individual, for those you share your life with and for the world at large.
It is not, as Keller himself, points out, a book for those in a current crisis of suffering, neither is it a handbook for those offering pastoral care to dip into when looking for helpful guidance. It is, however, a book that I think will interest, challenge and reshape many Christians both in relation to their own understanding of God and suffering and in relation to the theology and practical care given by the church. It is also a book to be read and to become part of your DNA so that when suffering comes, as it will, to you or those you serve, you are prepared, you have reserves of understanding of God’s wisdom to call on.
The book is divided into three parts: Understanding the Furnace (looking at how different cultures and religions frame suffering); Facing the Furnace (clear explanation and exploration of Christian teaching and why it offers a different way of experiencing and learning from suffering); and Walking With God in the Furnace (using the experiences of suffering in the Bible to help us reach the deeper truths to help us through our own suffering and suggesting distinct responses, but no easy answers).
All three parts of the book are quite theological, though with examples from real-life situations to illustrate the points. Keller quotes and explains philosophers, theologians and sociologists past and present to explain the development of different cultures’ attitudes to suffering. I found this interesting and helpful in understanding the current culture and its attitudes to suffering. It made me analyse and challenge my own perspective, including a realisation that some of my thinking about God has been affected by our current cultural influences.
Though each chapter closes with an illuminating true-life story of Christians facing terrible situations illustrating the theology Keller is explaining, I did find myself longing for more practical application in the first two sections. But this could just be a personal preference for a practical ‘do-er’ like myself! I suspect that I will re-read and revisit parts of this book in times to come, for myself and for others, and that each reading will bring more understanding and ‘lightbulb’ moments.
Reviewed by Sarah Atkins