I know I’ve mentioned this book before. But here is a full review.
Tim Keller, in this hefty, somewhat scholarly book, thick with Scripture references, personal stories and C.S. Lewis-level logical arguments, discusses how our culture tells us that adversity, suffering and struggle are bad – they are something to get past so we can get on with real life. Suffering, such as dealing with cancer (or job loss, infidelity, serious injury, loss of a loved one) is a life disruption, a snag, an interruption from our regularly scheduled programming. But, as Dr. Keller poses, what about the biblical view? It says this is IMPORTANT. It’s allowed by God, by design. It’s not retaliation for that time you missed church or lied about being stuck in traffic or even that time you stole, cheated or deeply betrayed a close friend. The justice for all of the dumb stuff you do was satisfied, paid in full on the cross. So, while it’s possible that your suffering may be a direct consequence of sin, ignore the temptation of yourself and others to ponder whether you “deserve” the suffering or not. It’s irrelevant. Additionally, depending on how you approach it, this suffering you’re experiencing can be used by you and God to galvanize your faith, to deepen your intimacy with God, to strengthen your relationships and bless you with greater wisdom, compassion and patience.
Put another way, whatever suffering you’re going through, it’s not an accident, it’s not punishment and it’s not to be squandered.
Here is an excerpt that really challenged and encouraged me:
“If you believe in Jesus and you rest in Him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold. Do you want to know who you are—your strengths and weaknesses? Do you want to be a compassionate person who skillfully helps people who are hurting? Do you want to have such a profound trust in God that you are fortified against the disappointments of life? Do you want simply to be wise about how life goes?
Those are four crucial things to have—but none of them are readily achievable without suffering. There is no way to know who you really are until you are tested. There is no way to really empathize and sympathize with other suffering people unless you have suffered yourself. There is no way to really learn how to trust in God until you are drowning.”
One of the most challenging aspects of this book is how Dr. Keller boldly confronts the reader with this question: Are you in this (the Christian faith) to truly serve God, or are you in it to see how you can get God to serve you? Oof. That’s a rough question. Our response to suffering gives us the answer. If we kick and scream and whine and cry and demand to be released from the suffering, we’re not approaching it with a trusting attitude toward God. We’re basically saying “Well, I was ok with this until physical pain came up on me.” Or “Hey, I was willing to go along until you let that man break my heart.” If we really believe that this God loves us enough to send his son to the cross to save us from all of our terrible decisions, moral failures and selfish choices, then how can we not trust Him to be with us in the midst of of the suffering?
This book is for people who are experiencing serious suffering, or people who want to be prepared for when it comes their way. Dr. Keller has published a gift here – a guide to having a Biblical, Christ-centered response when your world comes crashing down. If you want to take your faith-journey to the next level, read it.