Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Notes: Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

When I was given this book at Christmastime, I looked forward to storming through another Keller book which I assumed would be enjoyable, uplifting, encouraging and stimulating. The events I blogged about in January, however have made working my way through this book, and this subject, a slow, troublesome and rather profound experience.

Keller wrote this book, not simply because he is a pastor of a church - and so someone to whom sufferers turn; but because his wife was repeatedly hospitalised for abdominal surgery and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This book is the distillation of all that he has learned as he has both suffered and helped the suffering; and is the fruit of many years of seeking to harness all the resources of Christian theology, faith and spirituality to face this massive dilemma of the human condition.

The book looks from two perspectives at entering the 'inevitable furnace of suffering', the first section of the book is more theoretical; engaging theologically and philosophically at the problem of evil and suffering. Keller describes this as written for those 'looking in' to the furnace, seeking a Christian response to the problem of suffering. His approach does not endorse any one of the popular apologetics, arguing that these go beyond the Bible which leaves many questions as mysteries, but seeks to chart a coherent view of suffering in a Christian worldview. In this frame, suffering and evil are neither the result of blind fate, hopeless chance or karmic revenge, nor is the experience the result of the spite of a malevolent or abandoning God; but are temporary evils which a loving God mysteriously allows. However, these Keller is keen to establish, are evils which God uses for the good of those who trust Him, and experiences which can be profoundly harnessed for our eternal good. These chapters are each concluded with some personal stories written by various sufferers whose deeply moving experiences exemplify the points made in the chapters.

Here's Keller introducing the book:

Keller's introduction to the book advises anyone currently enduring suffering to skip this first section which looks abstractly at the problem - and to turn to the latter half of the book. Here, rather than asking "Why does God allow suffering?", the question in view is: "How can I get through today?" and is written directly to the sufferer. This section is less demanding reading, but is a very personal and rather moving devotional theology designed to equip the sufferer to grow through the experience of pain. The series of reflections on the ancient biblical story of Job are very helpful indeed as is his study on the dimensions of 'walking with God' through it: weeping, praying, thanking, hoping, loving and trusting. Here, his emphasis is outworking the philosophy he works out in part one, in simple terms of everyday Christian spirituality. Suffering in this context is not to be dismissed, minimised or denied - but faced. It is not 'unspiritual' to grieve, or to weep; only to do so without turning to God like the Psalmists did. Christian faith does not seek to generate an otherworldy or gnostic detachment from the physical realities of life and death; but to enfuse the experience with faith and hope.

Tellingly, Keller's main focus is on encountering Jesus Christ in the crucible of suffering. For him, knowing, seeing, encountering and adoring Him is the great prize of human life; and suffering presents a vital opportunity for this kind of spiritual growth (like Job) simply because it strips away all the other blessings of life which can become at best distractions and at worst idols.

Joni Earickson Tada writes:  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? ...... 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. It's a good review, which you can read here

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Signs of Spring

It must be Spring, the deer have returned to the western side of Kinnoull Hill and onto Barnhill.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Not Small, Far Away!"

At Mussenden Temple

Downhill House

The ruins of Downhill House sit high above the cliffs of the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Once the focus of a vast estate covering vast acres of of the North, it collapsed in a financial crisis after WWII. Most of the great house was sold off, many items apparently being taken to America.

Magilligan Martello

To prevent Napoleon invading Ireland up the Foyle Estuary.

Monday, April 14, 2014

At Downhill Beach

(click on image to enlarge)

A murky day gave way to an incredible sunset.

Ah, young love!



If you are going to build one of these, the "Windyhill" seems like an apt location...

Seaside Album II, at Castlerock