Walking with God Through Pain & Suffering

One of the books I read for our series at Revolution on Habakkuk called Waiting on God was Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and SufferingIt is by far the most helpful and most thorough book on the topic of pain and suffering and where God is when life hurts the most.

To give you an idea, when I read a book I would say I average highlighting anywhere from 25 – 40 things. In this book, I highlighted 160 passages.

Keller starts off the book by telling us why it matters so much,

Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable, and its scope often overwhelms. If you spend one hour reading this book, more than five children throughout the world will have died from abuse and violence during that time.3 If you give the entire day to reading, more than one hundred children will have died violently. But this is, of course, only one of innumerable forms and modes of suffering. Thousands die from traffic accidents or cancer every hour, and hundreds of thousands learn that their loved ones are suddenly gone. That is comparable to the population of a small city being swept away every day, leaving families and friends devastated in the wake. When enormous numbers of deaths happen in one massive event—such as the 1970 Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or the 2010 Haiti earthquake—each of which killed 300,000 or more at once—it makes headlines around the world and everyone reels from the devastation. But statistics are misleading. Such historic disasters do not really change the suffering rate. Tens of thousands of people die every day in unexpected tragedies, and hundreds of thousands around them are crushed by grief and shock. The majority of them trigger no headlines because pain and misery is the norm in this world. We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I do not fit the description; I do not live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to find our peace of mind? . . . The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. Find out what the profile is, and identify the ways in which you do not fit it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic.

With that in mind, here 13 things I learned or was reminded of in this book that I hope will be of encouragement for you:

  1. When pain and suffering come upon us, we finally see not only that we are not in control of our lives but that we never were.

  2. At the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us—is suffering. The great theme of the Bible itself is how God brings fullness of joy not just despite but through suffering, just as Jesus saved us not in spite of but because of what he endured on the cross.

  3. the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace. This biblical metaphor is a rich one. Fire is, of course, a well-known image for torment and pain. The Bible calls trials and troubles “walking through fire” (Isa 43:2) or a “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet 4:12). But it also likens suffering to a fiery furnace (1 Pet 1:6–7). The biblical understanding of a furnace is more what we would call a “forge.” Anything with that degree of heat is, of course, a very dangerous and powerful thing. However, if used properly, it does not destroy. Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy. Suffering, then, actually can use evil against itself. It can thwart the destructive purposes of evil and bring light and life out of darkness and death.

  4. Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.

  5. Christians don’t face adversity by stoically decreasing our love for the people and things of this world so much as by increasing our love and joy in God.

  6. Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story. Suffering is the result of our turn away from God, and therefore it was the way through which God himself in Jesus Christ came and rescued us for himself. And now it is how we suffer that comprises one of the main ways we become great and Christ-like, holy and happy, and a crucial way we show the world the love and glory of our Savior.

  7. If you have a God infinite and powerful enough for you to be angry at for allowing evil, then you must at the same time have a God infinite enough to have sufficient reasons for allowing that evil.

  8. God is sovereign over suffering and yet, in teaching unique to the Christian faith among the major religions, God also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering. The other side of the sovereignty of God is the suffering of God himself.

  9. Suffering is painful “at the time” but later yields a harvest.

  10. It is one thing to believe in God but it is quite another thing to trust God.

  11. If you believe in Jesus and you rest in him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold.

  12. We should not assume that if we are trusting in God we won’t weep, or feel anger, or feel hopeless.

  13. The way you live now is completely controlled by what you believe about your future.

If you are walking through a difficult season or are struggling to trust God as you look at the pain in our world, this is the one book I’d recommend you read.

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