“This book is an effort to…take life seriously” (3). So says Tim Keller in the introduction to this phenomenal work on suffering. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is a comprehensive theological tool for crafting a Biblical paradigm of suffering, but it comes with a particular practical bent. In this regard it is incredibly unique in helping readers think both philosophically and practically about their suffering.
In writing this book Keller wanted to develop a resource that would help to discuss both the philosophical issues at the heart of suffering and also the practical needs of those in the midst of personal crisis. Often books on the subject deal with only one perspective. Some deal with the “problem of evil” and others focus on devotional writing aimed at the encouragement of the sufferer. This volume, however, attempts to do both. It’s not small task, but the book’s divisions help to distinguish which parts will be most helpful to each individual.
The book is broken down into three parts. Part one deals with suffering from an anthropological and sociological perspective. Here Keller touches on theoretical issues and analyzes various cultural and religious responses to suffering. He explores the deficiencies of various approaches, not the least of which is the secular approach. The secular approach to suffering gets its own chapter as Keller sees it as the weakest of all responses. He sees, naturally, Christianity as the most holistic and hopeful response. He deals here with the problem of evil as well.
Part two explores the Bible’s theological teaching on suffering. He says, “This section begins a journey from the philosophical toward the personal” (8). Here Keller taps into the theme of the “fiery furnace” and the Biblical description of suffering through this image. He touches on the various Biblical doctrines as they relate to the subject of suffering, including: faith, sovereignty of God, and the atonement. He also personalizes the subject as he invites readers to think about the reasons for suffering, their walk and sanctification in the midst of suffering, and the varieties of suffering we experience.
The final section gets the most practical. Part three explores the actual activity of “walking with God” through pain and suffering. In six chapters Keller gives us tools to face and feel our suffering, and to grow through our experience of it. He invites us to understand the role of weeping, trusting, praying, thinking, thanking, loving, and hoping. Without being simplistic, this section avoids any notion of processes or steps. Each chapter is its own and will be experienced uniquely and perhaps multiple times in our “walking.” The chapter on “Walking” (chapter eleven), sets a good starting place for this final portion of the book as it outlines a whole life orientation towards God in the midst of suffering.
The strengths of this book are typical to its author. Keller excels at synthesizing diverse views and perspectives. He brings to bear a plethora of research, quotation, and insight from a wide array of sources and scholars. He shows his skill in erudition and analysis in the first part of the book. Some of part one will be difficult for the average reader, as Keller wades through his sociological survey, but he does a great job of continuing to make it relevant to the discussion. He also shows his immense pastoral heart as he counsels, and teaches throughout the book. Keller is a pastor and scholar in all the right ways.
This is a great book that will help many navigate not merely their own struggles but aid their counsel and care of others who are struggling. As a counselor I found it to be a tremendous help in thinking afresh a theological paradigm of suffering. I highly commend Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering as it will connect and be relevant to a diversity of readers. Whether you are presently suffering or simply want to help those who are suffering this is a good tool.