By Joni Eareckson Tada
Forgive me, but I’m always a bit skeptical about the latest book on suffering and God. I’m not a cynic or a disparager; it’s just the subject has so consumed me for the last 46 years of quadriplegia, that everything I read makes me wonder, Is there anything new or explained differently about affliction and the Almighty that can help—I mean really help—me through my suffering?
Yes, I’m a seasoned Christian who has memorized practically every Bible verse on how to overcome pain and trust God. But still my faith wobbles when I’m laid claustrophobically flat, paralyzed in bed with a lung infection. Or when I watch a young mother weep at the hospital bedside her dying child. Or when a 30-year-old disabled Marine gets warehoused in a nursing home because his wife can’t stand the heat. And my faith really shudders when in some corner of the world, a lock on a chicken shed opens and there lies a child with cerebral palsy, thirsty and hungry.
Where are the answers to such horrendous and seemingly senseless suffering? Through the decades, I have learned that when you’re hemorrhaging human pain, answers—even if they are good, right, and true—can sting like salt in a wound. When you are decimated and down for the count, the “16 good biblical reasons why all this is happening” can come across as cold and calloused. Answers are good when you’re asking “Why?” with an open heart, but they can do damage when you’re asking “Why?” with a clenched fist.
And so, when I pick up a hefty manuscript written by a popular pastor/theologian—even if it is Timothy Keller—I muse, Will these pages actually reach people where they hurt—in the gut and in the heart?
Well, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering comes pretty close. I hate to sound trite, but 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).
Is it possible? Can Keller’s latest—and some have said his most significant—work accomplish all this? Is he actually saying something new under the sun?
Also, check out a related interview with Timothy Keller at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/10/02/tim-keller-wants-you-to-suffer-well/