Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin. August 4, 2015.
Genre: Christian nonfiction.
Rating: Recommend. Excellent.
Audience: Readers of Timothy Keller. Christian readers who are going through a hard season of suffering or want to understand suffering.
Happy New Year!
This is the last book to review in 2018. This book took me the longest to read because of its content. Several times I had to reread a sentence, paragraph, and page. It is a book that has deep teachings and deep insight.
The question of why God allows pain and suffering is one many people try to avoid in conversation. It is a question no one wants to think about. It is why some people leave the faith and why others will not become a Christian. It is that question that hangs on like a cartoon bubble above the character. The question will not go away, it just hangs there waiting for an answer. Its a question that I try and avoid, even though I’ve had pain and suffering in life. It is a brave thing Timothy Keller has done. He has written a book about an unpopular topic in hopes it will help people understand how to deal with pain and suffering, and more importantly how to comprehend God’s work in it.
I have a lot of thoughts. I’ve been told by well-meaning friends that I think too hard about things. It’s my introvert personality: thinking and contemplating. I also ask hard questions. I even ask God hard questions.
•Why did I have breast cancer and at such a young age?
•Why does my only grandson have autism and other issues?
•Why did my mother have Alzheimer’s 18 years?
•Where does all the hate and cruelty in the world come from?
•Why do so many children suffer with abuse, poverty, hunger; and some are murdered by their own parents?
Keller begins his book with some of these same questions that I’ve asked. And,
Keller writes that the answer comes, “by understanding our relationship with God.”
“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.” Page 3.
“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.” Page 5.
An interesting point: While writing this book Keller found people who turned away from God after suffering. But he also found people who came to know God during a hard time of suffering.
The book has three parts to it:
Part One: “Understanding the Furnace” -A look at human suffering.
Part Two: “Facing the Furnace: -What the Bible says about suffering.
Part Three: “Walking With God in the Furnace” -This part of the book is the practical section that answers how we walk with God during suffering.
Reasons why I gave this book an excellent rating:
•I learned suffering can have the opposite affect. Suffering can cause the person to grow stronger. “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.” Page 8.
•I was introduced to other forms of thought on suffering. For example: the beliefs of Friedrich Nietzsche, Victor Frankel, Susan Jacoby, Buddhism, Stoics, Hinduism, and the idea of karma. Also, how “modern Western culture” views suffering as opposed to “non-Western cultures.”
•Chapter 8 is a pinnacle point of the book: “The reason for Suffering.”
“So suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experience his redemption. And means that our suffering, despite its painfulness, is also filled with purpose and usefulness.” Page 163-164.
•And a point that I’d already learned through suffering. “…to trust God when we do not understand Him is to treat him as God and not as another human being. It is to treat Him as glorious-infinitely beyond us in His goodness and wisdom.” Page 174.
And a follow-up to this point is in chapter 9. “We should trust Him because it is His due, He is worthy of it, not because it will get us something. If we love and obey God for His own sake, not ours, it begins to turn us into something strong and great and wise.” Page 187.
•It is through suffering we pray as we’ve never prayed before. It creates a deeper prayer life. It also causes us to have a great compassion for others who are suffering.
•The “Epilogue” is a summary of what’s been taught in the book.
•Bible passages used are from Job, Psalms, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Proverbs.
I believe understanding the concept of suffering is not something we understand in one book or through one season of suffering. It is not even understandable in a lifetime. It is a gradual revealing of truths about suffering in our particular life. However, things will be perfectly clear when we are in His full presence.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 24. NIV.