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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Prodigal Prophet Timothy Keller comes the definitive Christian book on why bad things happen and how we should respond to them.

The question of why God would allow pain and suffering in the world has vexed believers and nonbelievers for millennia. Timothy Keller, whose books have sold millions of copies to both religious and secular readers, takes on this enduring issue and shows that there is meaning and reason behind our pain and suffering, making a forceful and ground-breaking case that this essential part of the human experience can be overcome only by understanding our relationship with God. 

As the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Timothy Keller is known for his unique insights into religion and culture. Keller''s series of books has guided countless readers in their spiritual journeys.  Walking with God through Pain and Suffering uses biblical wisdom and personal stories of overcoming adversity to bring a much-needed, fresh viewpoint to this important issue.

Review

Praise for Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

“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

TIMOTHY KELLER was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular Sunday attendees and has helped to start nearly two hundred churches around the world. Also the author of Every Good Endeavor, The Meaning of Marriage, Jesus the King, Generous Justice, Counterfeit Gods, The Prodigal God, The Reason for God, and the Encounters with Jesus eSeries, Timothy Keller lives in New York City with his family.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction

The Rumble of Panic beneath EverythingI think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation . . . ?of the rumble of panic under­neath everything. Otherwise it is false.—­Ernest Becker, The Denial of DeathI will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the af­flicted hear and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:1–­3)

Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable, and its scope often overwhelms. If you spend one hour reading this book, more than five children throughout the world will have died from abuse and violence during that time. If you give the entire day to reading, more than one hundred children will have died violently. But this is, of course, only one of innu­merable forms and modes of suffering. Thousands die from traffic acci­dents or cancer every hour, and hundreds of thousands learn that their loved ones are suddenly gone. That is comparable to the population of a small city being swept away every day, leaving families and friends devastated in the wake.

When enormous numbers of deaths happen in one massive event—­such as the 1970 Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or the 2010 Haiti earthquake—­each of which killed 300,000 or more at once—­it makes headlines around the world and everyone reels from the devastation. But statistics are misleading. Such historic disasters do not really change the suffering rate. Tens of thousands of people die every day in unexpected tragedies, and hundreds of thou­sands around them are crushed by grief and shock. The majority of them trigger no headlines because pain and misery is the norm in this world.

Shakespeare understood this when he wrote:

Each new morn

New widows howl, new orphans cry,

New sorrows strike heaven on the face.

Evil and suffering are so pervasive that the statistics I just recounted hardly make us blink. Yet we must blink. Author Ernest Becker spoke about the danger of denying the misery of life and the randomness of suffering. When we hear of a tragedy, there is a deep-­seated psycholog­ical defense mechanism that goes to work. We think to ourselves that such things happen to other people, to poor people, or to people who do not take precautions. Or we tell ourselves that if only we get the right people into office and get our social systems right, nothing like this will happen again.

But Becker believed such thinking fails to “take life seriously” or to admit the “lived truth of the terror of creation . . . ?of the rumble of panic underneath everything.” That panic comes from death. Death is irreducibly unpredictable and inexorable.

The same message comes through in an article written in The New York Times Magazine during the time of the “Beltway Sniper,” who was shooting people in the Washington, DC, area in what appeared to be a completely random way, without concern for race or age. Ann Patchett wrote:

We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I do not fit the de­scription; I do not live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to find our peace of mind? . . .

The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our choles­terol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. Find out what the profile is, and identify the ways in which you do not fit it. But a sniper taking a single clean shot, not into a crowd but through the sight, reminds us horribly of death itself. Despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random.

And it is absolutely coming.

Patchett and Becker expose the common ways we seek to deny the rumble of panic. This book is an effort to do what they urge—­to take life seriously. I want to help readers live life well and even joyfully against the background of these terrible realities. The loss of loved ones, debil­itating and fatal illnesses, personal betrayals, financial reversals, and moral failures—­all of these will eventually come upon you if you live out a normal life span. No one is immune.

Therefore, no matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and success­ful with our career—­something will inevitably ruin it. 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.

We all know this intuitively, and those who face the challenge of suf­fering and pain learn all too well that it is impossible to do so using only our own resources. We all need support if we are not to succumb to despair. In this book we will argue that inevitably this support must be spiritual.

“Let the Afflicted Hear and Be Glad”

On our wedding day, Kathy and I spoke our vows to each other in front of our friends and families. To the traditional words of commitment we added a passage of Scripture—­Psalm 34:1–­3—­which is engraved on the inside of our wedding rings.

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Saying our vows was a heady moment, and the lofty words of the text enhanced it. We were embarking on a lifetime of Christian ministry to­gether, and we anticipated boldly presenting the God we knew to the world. At the time, however, we almost completely ignored the words at the center of the passage. The text’s definition of ministry success is that “the afflicted hear and be glad.” One of the reasons that phrase was lost on us then was because, as Kathy said later, “at that age neither of us had suffered so much as an ingrown toenail.” We were young, and the hubris of youth does not imagine pain and suffering. Little did we un­derstand how crucial it would be to help people understand and face affliction, and to face it well ourselves.

As I took up life as a minister, I tried to understand why so many people resisted and rejected God. I soon realized that perhaps the main reason was affliction and suffering. How could a good God, a just God, a loving God, allow such misery, depravity, pain, and anguish? Doubts in the mind can grow along with pain in the heart. When I sat with sufferers, I often found myself fielding white-­hot objections to God’s existence and to Christian faith. Some years ago, a Hollywood actress was interviewed after her lover had died suddenly in an accident. She had been living without thought or reference to God for a long time, but once this happened she said, “How could a loving God let this hap­pen?” In an instant she went from indifference to God to anger toward him. It is this kind of experience that has led a host of thinkers to argue, as the writer Stendhal (Marie-­Henri Beyle) did, that “the only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist.”

But at the same time, I learned that just as many people find God through affliction and suffering. They find that adversity moves them toward God rather than away. Troubled times awaken them out of their haunted sleep of spiritual self-­sufficiency into a serious search for the divine. Suffering “plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” It is an exaggeration to say that no one finds God unless suffering comes into their lives—­but it is not a big one. 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.

Over the years, I also came to realize that adversity did not merely lead people to believe in God’s existence. It pulled those who already believed into a deeper experience of God’s reality, love, and grace. One of the main ways we move from abstract knowledge about God to a personal encounter with him as a living reality is through the furnace of affliction. As C. S. Lewis famously put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” Believers understand many doctrinal truths in the mind, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through disappointment, failure, and loss. As a man who seemed about to lose both his career and his family once said to me, “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.”

Finally, as I grew in my understanding of the Bible itself, I came to see that the reality of suffering was one of its main themes. The book of Genesis begins with an account of how evil and death came into the world. The book of Exodus recounts Israel’s forty years in the wilder­ness, a time of intense testing and trial. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament is largely dedicated to the problem of suffering. The book of Psalms provides a prayer for every possible situation in life, and so it is striking how filled it is with cries of pain and with blunt questions to God about the seeming randomness and injustice of suffering. In Psalm 44, the writer looks at the devastation of his country and calls, “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? . . . . ?Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Ps 44:23–­24) The books of Job and Ec­clesiastes are almost wholly dedicated to deep reflection on unjust suf­fering and on the frustrating pointlessness that characterizes so much of life. The prophets Jeremiah and Habakkuk give searing expression to the human complaint that evil seems to rule history. New Testament books such as Hebrews and 1 Peter are almost entirely devoted to helping people face relentless sorrows and troubles. And towering over all, the central figure of the whole of Scripture, Jesus Christ, is a man of sor­rows. The Bible, therefore, is about suffering as much as it is about anything.

Inevitably, Kathy and I found ourselves facing our own griefs. In 2002, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and went through surgery and treatment. Around the same time, Kathy’s Crohn’s disease became acute and she had to undergo numerous surgeries over the next few years, once enduring seven in one year. At one point, I found myself facing the agonizing possibility that I should leave the pastoral ministry because of my wife’s chronic illness. It was the darkest time of our lives so far. And we know for certain, from Scripture and experience, that there are more dark times to come. And yet also more joy than we can now imagine.

Looking back on our lives, Kathy and I came to realize that at the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people de­cline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us—­is suffering. And when we looked to the Bible to understand this deep pattern, we came to see that the great theme of the Bible itself is how God brings fullness of joy not just despite but through suffering, just as Jesus saved us not in spite of but because of what he endured on the cross. And so there is a peculiar, rich, and poignant joy that seems to come to us only through and in suffering.

What we have learned from these years of ministry to “the afflicted” is in this volume. Simone Weil writes that suffering makes God “appear to be absent.” She is right. But in Psalm 34, David counters that though God feels absent, it does not mean he actually is. Looking back at a time when his life had been in grave danger and all seemed lost, David con­cludes, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (v. 18).

I’m writing this book because we have found in our own lives that this is true.

The Fiery Furnace and the Plan for This Book

So is this a book for sufferers? Yes, but we must make some distinctions. We are all sufferers, or we will be. But not all of us are currently in an experience of deep pain and grief. Those who are not feeling it, but are seeing it in others, will have a host of philosophical, social, psychologi­cal, and moral questions about it. On the other hand, those who are in the grip of pain and difficulty now cannot treat it as a philosophical issue. Speaking to the questions of the nonsufferer as well as to the struggles of the sufferer in one book is a not a simple task. While the afflicted person may cry out using philosophical questions—­“Why do you allow such things, God?”—­the real concern is personal survival. How can you survive it? How can you get through it without losing the best parts of yourself? To speak in a detached philosophical manner to an actual suf­ferer is cruel. And yet the experience of pain leads almost inevitably to “big questions” about God and the nature of things that cannot be ig­nored.

As I read books on evil and suffering, it became clear that most vol­umes treated the subject mainly from just one perspective. Many books used the philosophical perspective, weighing the “problem of evil” and whether it made the existence of God more or less likely or Christianity more or less plausible. Others took a theological approach, distilling and assembling all the biblical themes and teachings about pain and suffer­ing. Finally, many books took a devotional approach, writing a series of meditations designed to help actual sufferers in the midst of their grief. There was also a smaller number of articles and books that took both a historical and an anthropological approach, examining how different cultures have helped its members face troubles and trials. The more I read, the clearer it became that these various perspectives informed one another, and that any treatment that confined itself to only one vantage point left far too many unanswered questions.

And so I have divided the book into three parts, each part looking at the issue using somewhat different tools. What unites them is the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace. This biblical metaphor is a rich one. Fire is, of course, a well-­known image for torment and pain. The Bible calls trials and troubles “walking through fire” (Isa 43:2) or a “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet 4:12). But it also likens suffering to a fiery furnace (1 Pet 1:6–­7). The biblical understanding of a furnace is more what we would call a “forge.” Anything with that degree of heat is, of course, a very dangerous and powerful thing. However, if used properly, it does not destroy. Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy. 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.

In the first part of the book, we will look at the “furnace” from the outside—­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. We also will look at the classic phil­osophical “problem of evil” and what responses we can give to it. Be­cause this first part of the book surveys a great deal of scholarship, it inevitably will be a more theoretical discussion. It is crucial for seeing the entire picture but, frankly, may feel too abstract for a person in the midst of adversity.

The second part of the book moves away from more theoretical is­sues and begins to digest all that the Bible says about the character of suffering. This section begins a journey from the philosophical toward the personal. We could almost say that, like a parent with a toddler, the Bible is teaching us to walk, step by step. The Bible calls us to walk steadily through afflictions, and to do so requires that we understand its wonderfully balanced and comprehensive teaching on this subject—­both profoundly realistic and yet astonishingly hopeful. This keeps us from thinking we can run from the furnace (avoid it) or quickly run through it (deny it) or just lie down hopelessly (despair in it).

Finally, the third part of the book provides the most practical mate­rial. The Bible does not perceive going through the “furnace of afflic­tion” as a matter of technique. Suffering can refine us rather than destroy us because God himself walks with us in the fire. But how do we actually walk with God in such times? How do we orient ourselves toward him so that suffering changes us for the better rather than for the worse? Each chapter is based on one main strategy for connecting with God in the furnace of pain and suffering. They should not be read as discrete “steps” to be followed in strict order but as various facets or aspects of a single action—­to know the God who says “when you pass through the waters . . . ?when you walk through the fire . . . ?I will be with you” (Isa 43:2).

If you are in the very midst of adversity, you may wish to read parts two and three of the book first. There you will find a surprising range of ways to face suffering, and they vary widely—­at times almost seeming to contradict each other. Part of the genius of the Bible as a resource for sufferers is its rich, multidimensional approach. It recognizes a great diversity of forms, reasons for, and right responses to suffering. To show the many possible human responses to suffering, I have included at the end of many chapters a first-­person story from someone who has en­countered suffering and walked with God through it. These stories are both inspirational and realistic. The Bible does not promise that suffer­ing will issue in full resolution or a “happy ending” in this life. But these stories show how people of faith have dealt with the varieties of suffering and walked through the furnace with God’s help. These stories are a reminder to recognize God’s presence even in the worst of times. Espe­cially in the worst of times.

In perhaps the most vivid depiction of suffering in the Bible, in the third chapter of the book of Daniel, three faithful men are thrown into a furnace that is supposed to kill them. But a mysterious figure appears beside them. The astonished observers discern not three but four per­sons in the furnace, and one who appears to be “the son of the gods.” And so they walk through the furnace of suffering and are not con­sumed. From the vantage of the New Testament, Christians know that this was the Son of God himself, one who faced his own, infinitely greater furnace of affliction centuries later when he went to the cross. This raises the concept of God “walking with us” to a whole new level. In Jesus Christ we see that God actually experiences the pain of the fire as we do. He truly is 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. “I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.”

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4.8 out of 54.8 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

A. Carmer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Reframing suffering and our response in light of the Gospel and the Bible
Reviewed in the United States on October 22, 2018
Until reading this book, I believed I looked at the world as a Christian. However it became abundantly clear that my mind has been shaped much more by my culture and secular education than by God and his Truth. I am thankful for this clarity, because it helps explain many... See more
Until reading this book, I believed I looked at the world as a Christian. However it became abundantly clear that my mind has been shaped much more by my culture and secular education than by God and his Truth. I am thankful for this clarity, because it helps explain many discrepancies between what I believe and what I experience, especially as a medical doctor. I believe in technology and science and progress and yet so often find myself helpless to even reduce (much less eliminate) my patients’ sufferings. I am forced again and again to trade one problem for a different problem. And my own resiliency to suffering is no better. This book helps me understand why. Until my heart and mind are shaped by God’s Truth, suffering will remain insurmountable and meaningless. It is only the full rich beliefs of the Christian faith that make suffering something less than ultimate and more than worthless. To this point, my main goal in life has been to avoid suffering for myself and relieve it in others. And I’ve failed miserably. After wrestling through this book, I understand why I’ve failed (and couldn’t have done anything but fail) in this aim. I hope that this is the beginning of building a new main goal based on reality: To suffer well and help others to do likewise by embracing the truths God has revealed through scripture and most clearly through his Son. And if this book has taught me anything it is that the path to this goal can only be walking through suffering. Reading this book can’t make a person able to suffer well, or able to help others suffer well. Only experience allows this; but reading this book has given me a diagnosis and helped me to be able to recognize the treatment. May God help me to walk with Him ever more closely (and hopefully) through the pain and suffering that comes so that someday I may even rejoice in my sufferings because they have given me something infinitely more precious than they have cost me. Praying the same for you.
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Dr. David P. Craig
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Into The Furnace and Out Like Gold
Reviewed in the United States on October 1, 2013
As someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of loss, grief, pain, and suffering I was excited for Tim''s book on suffering to arrive. Tim Keller has also suffered much, and thus speaks with credibility as a fellow sufferer in the journey of life where there are many... See more
As someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of loss, grief, pain, and suffering I was excited for Tim''s book on suffering to arrive. Tim Keller has also suffered much, and thus speaks with credibility as a fellow sufferer in the journey of life where there are many hills and valleys along the way.

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."
293 people found this helpful
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Truth Mama
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Helpful and freeing
Reviewed in the United States on September 25, 2019
I plan on reading this again soon. Hit with a long season of assorted griefs I felt I was losing my faith. This book has helped me to gain a better perspective and give myself grace. Life hurts and sometimes it hurts for too long and too deeply. There aren''t easy, quick... See more
I plan on reading this again soon. Hit with a long season of assorted griefs I felt I was losing my faith. This book has helped me to gain a better perspective and give myself grace. Life hurts and sometimes it hurts for too long and too deeply. There aren''t easy, quick fix answers for some pains. This has helped me get through those dark times with the awareness that I am not alone and don''t have to bear my questions, sadness, and loss alone. God is there and has made a way through the wilderness. It''s still not fun, but I''m progressing without the melt downs. Find a friend to share it with.
6 people found this helpful
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J. Nitta
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Keller''s Latest is well... Vintage Keller!
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2013
Again, Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian, has written a masterful tome on the issue of pain and suffering. Maybe this is the most personal of his books in that it includes his own journey through thyroid cancer. What Keller does masterfully, as... See more
Again, Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian, has written a masterful tome on the issue of pain and suffering. Maybe this is the most personal of his books in that it includes his own journey through thyroid cancer.

What Keller does masterfully, as those who have sat under his teaching can attest, is throughout the book he fuses together not only thoughtful reflections on the issue, reading a wide scope of authors, and taking us constantly to Christ. Far from a self-help book or a four points to dealing with pain and suffering, Keller has crafted a book that speaks to where people are at yet pointing them to Christ. His books are much like his sermons that identify the problem, our inadequate ways of dealing with it through legalism/moralism or irreligion, and then pointing to Christ.

The book refuses to take a simple approach to the problem. Keller makes it clear that the amount of evil, pain, and suffering in the world is diverse and so should any theodicy. He masterfully takes us not only to the formal or logical problem of evil but the existential problem of evil quoting everyone from CS Lewis to Alvin Plantinga to Simon Veil (by the way, how many Presbyterian pastors do you know who quote a mystic like Veil?) He dips into writers who are not Christian while staying away from Christian writers who simply write about the problem in a popular kind of self-help way.

The book is broken into three sections: Framing the complexity of the problem (philosophical), framing how God redeems evil, pain, and suffering in our lives (theological), and finally our response to the problem (existential). Throughout the book I never got the sense that Keller is advocating a quick "fix it" to the problem. He is clear that some of the "words of comfort" we have offered people during their moments of suffering is at best trite, at worst cruel.

Finally, there is something refreshing about a pastor who has a good understanding of the heart. I was particularly grateful for chapter 15 which demonstrates that good thinking/theology need not be usurped by talk purely about the heart. His challenge to go in to our hearts to evaluate the ordering of our loves was masterful and important for everyone who takes ministry seriously. Not only must we think well but we must have our hearts enlarged.

One last note. It occurred to me that leading with something as "academic" as the philosophical problem (the first section) that evil, pain, and suffering seems to create for the Christian faith can be problematic for readers. The temptation will be to quit early because it seems too academic. Please hang in there. As my prof, JP Moreland used to encourage us in metaphysics, it''s ok if you get 50% of it. It will begin to make sense later. In the same way, take heart. The Christian faith provides resources far greater than "just have faith and believe it" because the Christian faith is reasonable. So when you get to the first section, largely what Keller is trying to do is to remove some of the cobwebs from our mind as we have all experienced at least the question how God could exist when we experience so much evil, pain and suffering. Hang in there with the reading! It will pay off in the end!
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Shirley T Fang
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Truth, Strength, and Comfort
Reviewed in the United States on October 2, 2018
I highly recommend this book for anyone who has, is, or will go through hardship. The first part of the book may seem dry and intellectual, but demonstrates the superiority of the Christian faith in helping believers transcend suffering, as compared to all other... See more
I highly recommend this book for anyone who has, is, or will go through hardship.
The first part of the book may seem dry and intellectual, but demonstrates the superiority of the Christian faith in helping believers transcend suffering, as compared to all other worldviews. A reader''s patience will be rewarded.

The second part of the book provides pastoral and practical advice. Keller''s recommendations can be both helpful to a sufferer, or to anyone who wants to comfort a loved one who is suffering. His gentle, patient and practical wisdom really shine through his words.

On a personal note, I bought this book to help me grieve a major life goal. It will help me weather this storm, and future storms. If life can guarantee anything, more hurricanes will come, so prepare for life''s tempests with this book. Who knows if an unforeseen storm may blow you toward a land God has prepared for you, a land you would not have chosen, but was ultimately where you belonged?
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Joshua Reich
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Best Book on How to Handle Pain and Suffering
Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2014
One of the books I read for our series at Revolution on Habakkuk called Waiting on God (http://www.tucsonrevolution.com/waiting-on-god/) was Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. It is by far the most helpful and most thorough book on the topic of... See more
One of the books I read for our series at Revolution on Habakkuk called Waiting on God (http://www.tucsonrevolution.com/waiting-on-god/) was Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. It is by far the most helpful and most thorough book on the topic of pain and suffering and where God is when life hurts the most.

To give you an idea, when I read a book I would say I average highlighting anywhere from 25 – 40 things. In this book, I highlighted 160 passages.

Keller starts off the book by telling us why it matters so much, "Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable, and its scope often overwhelms. If you spend one hour reading this book, more than five children throughout the world will have died from abuse and violence during that time.3 If you give the entire day to reading, more than one hundred children will have died violently. But this is, of course, only one of innumerable forms and modes of suffering. Thousands die from traffic accidents or cancer every hour, and hundreds of thousands learn that their loved ones are suddenly gone. That is comparable to the population of a small city being swept away every day, leaving families and friends devastated in the wake. When enormous numbers of deaths happen in one massive event—such as the 1970 Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or the 2010 Haiti earthquake—each of which killed 300,000 or more at once—it makes headlines around the world and everyone reels from the devastation. But statistics are misleading. Such historic disasters do not really change the suffering rate. Tens of thousands of people die every day in unexpected tragedies, and hundreds of thousands around them are crushed by grief and shock. The majority of them trigger no headlines because pain and misery is the norm in this world. We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I do not fit the description; I do not live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to find our peace of mind? . . . The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. Find out what the profile is, and identify the ways in which you do not fit it. 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."

With that in mind, here 13 things I learned or was reminded of in this book that I hope will be of encouragement for you:

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.

At the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us—is suffering. The great theme of the Bible itself is how God brings fullness of joy not just despite but through suffering, just as Jesus saved us not in spite of but because of what he endured on the cross.

the central image of suffering as a fiery furnace. This biblical metaphor is a rich one. Fire is, of course, a well-known image for torment and pain. The Bible calls trials and troubles “walking through fire” (Isa 43:2) or a “fiery ordeal” (1 Pet 4:12). But it also likens suffering to a fiery furnace (1 Pet 1:6–7). The biblical understanding of a furnace is more what we would call a “forge.” Anything with that degree of heat is, of course, a very dangerous and powerful thing. However, if used properly, it does not destroy. Things put into the furnace properly can be shaped, refined, purified, and even beautified. This is a remarkable view of suffering, that if faced and endured with faith, it can in the end only make us better, stronger, and more filled with greatness and joy. 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.

Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.

Christians don’t face adversity by stoically decreasing our love for the people and things of this world so much as by increasing our love and joy in God.

Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story. Suffering is the result of our turn away from God, and therefore it was the way through which God himself in Jesus Christ came and rescued us for himself. And now it is how we suffer that comprises one of the main ways we become great and Christ-like, holy and happy, and a crucial way we show the world the love and glory of our Savior.

If you have a God infinite and powerful enough for you to be angry at for allowing evil, then you must at the same time have a God infinite enough to have sufficient reasons for allowing that evil.

God is sovereign over suffering and yet, in teaching unique to the Christian faith among the major religions, God also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering. The other side of the sovereignty of God is the suffering of God himself.

Suffering is painful “at the time” but later yields a harvest.

It is one thing to believe in God but it is quite another thing to trust God.

If you believe in Jesus and you rest in him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold.

We should not assume that if we are trusting in God we won’t weep, or feel anger, or feel hopeless.

The way you live now is completely controlled by what you believe about your future.

If you are walking through a difficult season or are struggling to trust God as you look at the pain in our world, this is the one book I’d recommend you read.
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TBDrahos
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Life changing!
Reviewed in the United States on March 27, 2017
I cannot say enough good things about this book! It helped me find meaning in my suffering and, more importantly, peace and joy. I started in the second section "Facing the furnace" first. The whole book is written intelligently and in a serious tone, which I... See more
I cannot say enough good things about this book! It helped me find meaning in my suffering and, more importantly, peace and joy. I started in the second section "Facing the furnace" first. The whole book is written intelligently and in a serious tone, which I appreciate. I enjoyed reading about real people sharing their personal stories of suffering. Keller continually points the reader to Jesus and the hope of heaven. I''ve bought this book as a gift twice now. Everyone needs to read this because one thing is certain, no one is immune to suffering in this world.
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Luke Gorsett
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Outstanding
Reviewed in the United States on November 21, 2019
One stop shop for preparing for affliction. Theology of suffering meets practical help accompanied by personal testimonies of people from his church. Haven’t cried this much while reading a book... ever. Highly recommended. My only qualm would be his articulation of a more... See more
One stop shop for preparing for affliction. Theology of suffering meets practical help accompanied by personal testimonies of people from his church. Haven’t cried this much while reading a book... ever. Highly recommended. My only qualm would be his articulation of a more modern understanding of a passable God. I prefer the classic view of impassibility as articulated by the early creeds and reformed confessions. He also uses the term free will when I think a more helpful term is free agency when explaining compatibilism. Small quibbles of an outstanding book. Guaranteed I will revisit.
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jeremy marshall
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This book helped me greatly
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 5, 2015
Tim Keller has written lots of excellent books, the best of which I think is "The Reason for God" which is the main book I give to non Christian friends who are interested in finding out more about the Christian faith. While this book on suffering is of course...See more
Tim Keller has written lots of excellent books, the best of which I think is "The Reason for God" which is the main book I give to non Christian friends who are interested in finding out more about the Christian faith. While this book on suffering is of course written using Christian arguments based on the bible, it is extremely accessible for anyone of any belief or none.Keller looks at a wide range of views on suffering and how to deal with it, starting from ancient Greek philosophers and ending up with modern secularists. 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."
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Karen Daly
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Philosopical and practical
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 19, 2015
I am relatively new to the Christian faith and don''t usually read books as "academic" as this, so this book was on my bookshelf for a few months before I could start reading it from cover to cover. Read the introduction. It helpfully explains that the author has set...See more
I am relatively new to the Christian faith and don''t usually read books as "academic" as this, so this book was on my bookshelf for a few months before I could start reading it from cover to cover. Read the introduction. It helpfully explains that the author has set the book out in three sections - the first is a philosophical analysis of the approach different religions and cultures take to suffering, and why Christians bear suffering better than those of any other faith and philosophy, using examples such as the Stoics, Buddhists, Western secular society, etc. Unlike Stoics and Buddhists, who mitigate suffering by detachment from the world, Christians suffer better not because they love the world less, but because they love God more - God is with them in their suffering. His comments on Luther''s view of suffering were most helpful. 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.
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Ms. Caroline R. Whitla
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful, inspiring & practical bok - thank you.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 30, 2017
Brilliant brilliant book. Authr clearly has experienced, not just much suffering, but also the love and graciousness of a practical God who cares for us. It is beautifully written as well as being really practical in what we can do and what to trust God to do. It is backed...See more
Brilliant brilliant book. Authr clearly has experienced, not just much suffering, but also the love and graciousness of a practical God who cares for us. It is beautifully written as well as being really practical in what we can do and what to trust God to do. It is backed up by lots of scripture. I have read many books and articles on suffering and this is by far the best and most helpful. I recommend that everyone, in every church and beyond, should get a copy of this book to help them endure and transform their faith. Who says scripture has no answers to why God allows, even ordains, suffering in our lives??
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
highly recommended
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 8, 2016
The furnace of suffering is examined in three parts - understanding it, facing it and walking with God in it. Some may find chapter 1 ''the cultures of suffering'' harder going, but stick with it. The author does not claim to solve all the mysteries of suffering but has given...See more
The furnace of suffering is examined in three parts - understanding it, facing it and walking with God in it. Some may find chapter 1 ''the cultures of suffering'' harder going, but stick with it. The author does not claim to solve all the mysteries of suffering but has given much to help along the way. Unsurprisingly, this author shares insights from Augustine and Luther. Some of the life stories are quite moving. The fact that I have added a 3 page subject index and a 1 page Scripture index indicates the book''s continuing value.
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MRS D.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great book!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 16, 2020
This really helped me see suffering as something to be expected and that God can use it to make me more like Jesus. Definitely recommend it to anyone dealing with suffering or if you want to know how to handle it when it comes.
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