How could a good God allow suffering? It is the most common objection to belief in God. Timothy Keller has written what I consider to be one of the most comprehensive tomes on this most confounding question. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is composed of three sections. The first section, Understanding the Furnace, covers the philosophical issues and why secular society has no answer for the problem. The next section, Facing the Furnace, deals with the unique answers Christianity provides. The final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, explains the means and paths for facing suffering one inevitably encounters in life.
This week I will try to whet your appetite with a few comments from the Introduction: The Rumble of Panic Beneath Everything.
Timothy Keller reminds us that human life is fatally fragile, it is subject to powerful forces and it is ultimately tragic. Death is irreducibly unpredictable, inexorable, random and . . . . . . it is absolutely coming. Yet the Bible encourages, “Let the afflicted hear and be glad.”
When we experience affliction and suffering, what do we do? Do we move away from God and say “the only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist” or do we move toward God when we understand that we are not in control of our lives and we never were? When one understands the Bible, one sees that the reality of suffering is one of the main themes throughout its pages.
It is a deeply philosophical, social, psychological and moral issue. If you are in pain, you cannot treat is as a philosophical issue, yet you still cry out with the big philosophical questions that cannot be ignored while you just try to survive. To speak to a sufferer in philosophical terms is actually quite cruel.
Suffering can be understood using the biblical metaphor of the furnace. The fire of a furnace, used properly, can shape, refine, purify and even beautify. Suffering can use evil against itself. Do not think that you can run from it (avoid it), run through it (deny it) or lie down hopelessly (despair in it).
Next week we will explore Section One, Chapter One: The Cultures of Suffering.
To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.
Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9