How to Prepare for Pain and Suffering

You wouldn’t want someone to hand you this book, because it probably means you’re enduring hardship and suffering. But you need to read this book, preferably before the hardship and suffering inevitably comes.

Walking with God through Pain and SufferingWe in the West somehow think if we’re lucky we’ll avoid the pain we see around us. So we cross our fingers and hope for the best. Of course no one can avoid death and aging, but we put off such thoughts until absolutely necessary and sometimes not until it’s too late.

Tim Keller’s new book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, forces us to confront life as it really is and not as our Western fairy tales suggest. The first part of the book considers the problem of evil, the way various cultures handle suffering, why Christianity prevailed in the Roman world, and the inability of secular views to give purpose to life. The second part digs deeper into Christian theology to explore various kinds of suffering in light of the sovereignty and suffering of God. And the final section helps believers walk, weep, trust, pray, think, thank, love, and hope through trials.

I talked with Keller, vice president of The Gospel Coalition, about the inspiring stories interspersed through the book, Dostoevsky’s answer to the problem of evil, the need to train our minds with the gospel to prepare for suffering, and much more.

Download the interview or stream the audio below. And be sure to subscribe to our iTunes podcast for fresh daily content including interviews, sermons, lectures, and more.

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  • Steve Martin

    Interesting book.

    I hope it helps.

  • Curt Day

    I wish this was the first post on The Gospel Coalition blog that promoted the book because then I would have started out having a better idea of what the book was about.

    For anyone who has read the book, does Keller deal with those who volunteer to suffer for the benefit of others? Here, I am thinking of my fellow activists who willingly risk varying degrees of suffering to stop an injustice from occurring or continuing. But, there are countless other examples, such as first responders, who fit this mold.

    Also, as important as it is to show how Christianity handles the problem of evil, to rank Christianity above the other philosophies or beliefs in terms of how it handles evil and suffering rubs me the wrong way. For Christianity should be called wishful thinking if it is not true regardless of how it ranks in answering the problem of evil and suffering. I understand that determining if Christianity is true is well outside the scope of this book, but I still find how the comparisons are made in the interview to be a little out of place.

    • Matt Smethurst

      Thanks for your comment, Curt. Keller devotes an entire chapter to “The Varieties of Suffering” in which he examines the suffering we bring on ourselves, the suffering of betrayal, the suffering of loss, the suffering of mystery, and so forth. “Suffering caused by good and brave behavior” is explicitly discussed on pp. 209ff but is referenced throughout the book. Hope that helps.

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  • Olivia Brown

    I am only at this start of the podcast and I HAVE to write that I think that this book was the PERFECT length. I am so, so glad that every word was including. I am currently suffering, and the book was everything I needed. Here is my review on Amazon:

    So you can see how important the length is necessary (at least it was for me) in order to make the book the complete gift that it was. It is not a light book, but suffering is not a light thing. For those of us who are IN it, the book was not “long”. I clung to every word as hope and light formed for me, and yes it took work to get through, but the work was necessary to receive the gift. Unless we can see the complete picture, any book will be a light book that makes maybe a little bit of a difference to some few readers. This book was not that and it changed my life. This book will gift those who are suffering with an actual way–in just several hours–to make sense of their lives. When you are desperately hungry you want an entire meal, not just a snack.

    No other book really has affected me like this, except the Bible. I hesitated to say that on an Amazon review because when I am excited about something people assume it’s hyperbole or that I work for the company whose product I’ve written about or that I am related to the author. Not so. I have spent many years writing reviews to help direct people to products that have impacted me greatly. I want you to know here and the author to know again–YES, it’s long, YES it’s work to get through, but in the end it is something of substance and impact to those who need it.

    I can only imagine how it must feel to have written a book that helps someone like me and Timothy Keller has done it. I so far have bought (including the Kindle copy, 4 copies, and will buy more).

    The hard part about marketing this book is comments (like those made at the beginning of the podcast) that will scare people off. The subject matter is grim enough, and if you think this is a huge tome you will not want to take it on. If people have their minds affected overly much by pain-killers, are grieving intensely and can’t focus, are dying–no, they can’t get through the second and third part, but everyone else will not have a hard time. Because they will be motivated, and there is nothing else they would rather do than find answers to some of the most important questions they will ever ask.

    This is an important, even a vital book, so please take great care not to lose even one potential reader–this would be a great shame!

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  • Jason @

    So many approaches to suffering seem to only focus on how God responds to it, not why it exists-and continues to exist-in the first place. Although it is absolutely astonishing the lengths God goes to to transform suffering humans are ultimately responsible for into something great, even by enduring it himself, his response to suffering is relatively impotent or at least incomplete unless he can explain why he let it and lets it happen still. God does explain why very well in the Bible, and I’ve enjoyed exploring how in Healing Hereafter. Keller’s book seems to address that also, which is much appreciated.