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Walking with God through Pain and Suffering Paperback – August 4, 2015
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“It has something for everyone—something for the agnostic (Keller makes a strong argument that there are no true atheists); something for the philosopher (although he invites the wounded reader to skip that section); and something for the believer being beckoned into the inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (a place no one naturally wants to go).” - The Gospel Coalition
"It is a resource that takes a multidimensional approach to suffering - tackling the internal and external realities - and takes us deep theologically and practically." - Vertical Living Ministries
"A luminous and ultimately hopeful examination of the many aspects of suffering." - Booklist
Praise for Timothy Keller and his other books
"Tim Keller's ministry in New York City is leading a generation of seekers and skeptics toward belief in God. I thank God for him." – Billy Graham
“Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller’s skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience…Observing Dr. Keller’s professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal.” – The New York Times
“Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.” – Christianity Today
“With intellectual, brimstone-free sermons that manage to cite Woody Allen alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Keller draws some 5,000 young followers every Sunday. Church leaders see him as a model of how to evangelize urban centers across the country, and Keller has helped ‘plant’ 50 gospel-based Christian churches around New York plus another 50 from San Francisco to London.” – New York Magazine
“This is the book I give to all my friends who are serious spiritual seekers or skeptics.” – Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, on The Reason for God
“Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author's encounters as founding pastor of New York's booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church…[The Reason for God] should serve both as testimony to the author's encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to reevaluate what they believe, and why.” – Publishers Weekly on The Reason for God
“World has briefly reviewed about 200 books over the past year. Many stand out, but one in particular is likely to change many lives and ways of thinking. World’s Book of the Year is Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. ” – Marvin Olasky on The Reason for God
“It’s a great resource to equip you to speak with your secular friends; to show them why the Christian understanding of marriage is not only a tremendous blessing, it’s the only one that works.” – ChristianPost.com on The Meaning of Marriage
“The Meaning of Marriage is incredibly rich with wisdom and insight that will leave the reader, whether single or married, feeling uplifted. While the book is filled with expertly selected biblical verses, nonreligious readers willing to ‘try on’ these observations may find answers not only to the meaning of marriage but to that even bigger question—the meaning of life itself.” – The Washington Times on The Meaning of Marriage
“Theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom.” – Comment Magazine on Every Good Endeavor
“This book is for us all and through its reading it can change and reshape your entire outlook on your life.” – Sarah Macintosh on Every Good Endeavor
About the Author
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Keller divides the book into three parts based on the biblical metaphor where suffering is described as a "fiery furnace." Fire is an image used throughout the Bible as an image describing the torment and pain of suffering. The Bible speaks frequently of troubles and trials as "walking through the fire," a "fiery ordeal", and a "fiery furnace."
Therefore, Keller builds his themes around this image. In Part One Keller considers the furnace from the outside of us. He tackles "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 [suffering]."
In part two Keller moves away from the theoretical realm and begins to hone in on the personal and character issues that are developed when we suffer. He seeks to demonstrate that the common ways we handle suffering via avoidance, denial, and despair are essentially to waste our suffering. On the other hand, the Bible presents a balanced view in how to handle suffering in a step by step fashion. Biblical truth is always balanced and faces hardships head-on because these are the fires that God uses in our lives to mold our character and make us more like Christ.
Part three is the most practical part of the book. Suffering is actually designed by God to "refine us, not destroy us." Keller explains in this final section how we can can properly orient ourselves toward God in the midst of our suffering so that we walk as Jesus walked in His great suffering.
The best time to read a book on suffering is before you are in the midst of the furnace. Keller recommends that you read sections two and three if you are already in the midst of great suffering. However, the best time to prepare for suffering is before it occurs. Therefore, it would be wise to read this book in the calm before the storm. Christians need to be prepared and develop a theological foundation of suffering before we enter the hot furnaces of life.
Americans seem to suffer more due to the fact that they are even suffering - than because of the suffering in and of itself. Keller wisely shows that suffering is a normal part of living in a fallen world. Life is full of various kinds of sufferings and we will always find ourselves coming into, or coming out of the fires of the furnace. God's promise is that when you "pass through the waters...when you walk through the fire...I will be with you." Jesus faced the ultimate suffering and furnace [the cross] and came through unscathed on our behalf. He was victorious over all the fires that we faced so that we too can be victorious as we face the fires that will come in Him, and with Him by our side.
I highly recommend this book as a wonderful resource that takes seriously the problems and complexities of suffering without watering them down. It is a resource that takes a multidimensional approach to suffering - tackling the internal and external realities - and takes us deep theologically and practically. It is good spiritual food for the mind and soul. Keller also weaves many personal stories of men and women along the way in this journey of suffering that will help you connect to the truths that he is communicating - not just for information, but for transformation.
I believe that God will use this book to powerfully help Christians realize that God has a plan and purpose to bring good out of all of our suffering. Out of each furnace that we enter - though difficult and painful - we will be refined by the fire and come out like gold. We will come out shining like the Son if we learn to trust and depend on His grace before, during, and in the aftermath of our trials. As Keller writes, "In Jesus Christ we see that God actually experiences the pain of the fire as we do. He is truly God with us, in love and understanding, in our anguish. He plunged himself into our furnace so that, when we find ourselves in the fire, we can turn to him and know we will not be consumed but will be made into people great and beautiful."
Top international reviews
I realize that the question of suffering for some of us is not an academic issue but an intensely painful and hurtful, even overpowering reality. If you are suffering, Christian or not but interested in learning more about the Christian approach to suffering, this is the book for you. Its also written in a very sympathetic and compassionate way. This is a topic to be approached with the greatest sensitivity and kindness.
Keller's book looks at "Why do we suffer?" and then "What should we do when we are suffering?" The book splits into two parts, the longer first addressing the first question and the shorter and particularly strong second half looking at what we should do as Christians when in "the furnace." The furnace comes from the story some of us may remember from Sunday school of three men in ancient Babylon, Shadrach Meshach and Abednego. Its in the book of Daniel. They were thrown into the furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's idol. In the fire Nebuchadnezzar is amazed to see that they have been joined by a fourth person, whom Christians believe was the pre incarnate Jesus Christ. They come out unhurt. But Keller points out that very often Christians don't get rescued from "the furnace." And in fact the three men recognise this as they say to the King that if God wants to save them from suffering and death he can, but he may not. "Even if he doesn't though, King, we are still not going to bow down to the idol." Being a Christian Keller underlines is emphatically not an insurance policy against all the sadness and suffering of life. Many Christians, he argues, are "practical Deists" that is they see God as a divine being whose job it is to meet their needs. Surveys show that many Christians see God owing all but the most villainous people a comfortable life. That is emphatically not what the bible teaches. In fact, Keller points out God may well remove from us his blessings to teach us painfully to love him for his own sake and not what he gives us.
The strongest section is dealing with this in the personal response to suffering. Keller looks at various people in the bible and how they deal with it. Most famously in the oldest and in some ways the most mysterious book in the bible, Job. If you are not so familiar with the story, Job suffers the loss of his entire family and wealth, his health, everything. He was then visited by three friends, so called "comforters" who were worse than useless. They told him his suffering was his own fault. The book is very real in that Job is no "plaster saint" but rages against God and verges on telling God he is wrong. Then in the end of the book God himself speaks to Job essentially saying "I am God and you are not". He then restores Jobs life. Interestingly he doesn't rebuke Job for his profound crying out to God. God invites us to cry to him in our pain.
The reader of Job as Keller points out knows why this evil is fallen on Job - it's the devil who has been allowed by God to make Job suffer. Job himself though is never told that. we will often (though not always - see the story of Joseph) only see how God has used our suffering for his glory when we meet God face to face. The book of Job, Keller points out, therefore rightly points to a complete surrender to Gods sovereignty. This is very important truth but its not enough. For there's more in the New Testament which comes filled with an "an unimaginable comfort for those who are trusting in God. The sovereign God himself has come down into this world and has experience its darkness...He did it not to justify himself but to justify us....so that someday he can return and end all evil without having to condemn us".
Suffering can either drive us to God or away from him. Thinking about, reading about and praying to the Lord Jesus is rightly pointed out by Keller as the way to do the former. The Lord asks us to follow him through the furnace into which he, the only sinless man, voluntarily entered. He will abide with us and bring us out of the other side. He proves to us how much he loves us by suffering for us first. "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us".
Keller has a great quote which someone once said to him. This is perhaps the best summary of the book."I always knew, in principle, that 'Jesus is all you need' to get through. But you don't really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have". Or, as Keller himself writes the bible does not really answer finally the question as to where suffering comes from. But "for reasons past our finding out, even Christ did not bring salvation and grace apart from infinite suffering on the cross, as he loved us enough to face the suffering with patience and courage, so we must learn to trust in him enough to do the same."
The second part of the book moves from the philosophical to the personal, through examples from the Bible and the third section provides the most practical material. I have yet to read these two sections. Keller says that if you are in the midst of adversity, you may want to read the second and third sections first.
The central metaphor for all three sections is that of the Fiery Furnace, a place where, with skill, matter is refined and made more beautiful and useful, and also, in the Bible, a place where the Son of God was present along with the three men.
The book is academic in format, uses material from a wide range of authors and philosophers as well as from the Bible, and is well-referenced with excellent footnotes BUT at the end of most chapters there is a real life story. These stories, like colourful illustrations, speak directly and almost miraculously of God's presence in the midst of suffering. For someone like me, who has lived most of my life in a secular, materialistic world, these stories offer amazing evidence of God's presence with us in times of suffering. If the book gets too deep, go to the end of one of the chapters and find one of these stories.
You have to read.