Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, a book review

Why do bad things happen to faithful people? It’s a question which drove me to despair as a young Christian struggling with the devastating effects of stage 4 cancer. It’s a question which has caused my friends and clients great dismay over the course of my counseling ministry. When I needed answers, I was able to find books dealing with either the theological tangles (most notably for me, The Sovereignty of God by AW Pink) or the emotional process of suffering (e.g., A Grief Observed by CS Lewis or Holding On To Hope by Nancy Guthrie). Now there is a book which attempts to include both the intellectual questions and the practical strategies in one volume, Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Random House, 2013).

 

The book is divided into three parts. Simply put, the first part defines the questions inherent in suffering, the second part wrestles with those questions and the third part offers some Scriptural strategies for coping with suffering. That means two thirds of the book is intellectual in nature, a preponderance concealed by the title. And yet, that was the crux of the matter for me. When I was able to discern a little logic, a little purpose in the universe which included suffering, it eased some of the exhaustion, anger and depression I carried with me like a dead weight. Keller also deals with the heavy intellectual emphasis by including personal stories at the end of each chapter in the first two sections, a practice I wish he had continued into the third part, as well.

 

I liked this book – but I like Keller, and I like theology. Before recommending it to someone else, I would want to know whether they are ready for a gentle exercise in philosophy. Part of the reason I enjoyed the book was that it confirmed some of my own beliefs, for example, that God is in control, that the world is a broken place and that suffering is and will be redemptive. Everyone must come to their own conclusions about the meaning of life and the purpose of suffering – I don’t think being handed a mantra on a silver platter solves anything – and this book allows room for that kind of wrestling. It also attempts to provide some practical strategies for dealing with pain, largely from the Psalms, but there is something about those final chapters which falls short, remaining too academic for me. Coping with suffering, like everything else we do, can be worship – should be worship – and at its best, worship is a passionate undertaking. For that you will have to read something else.

Ruined: a book review

imageEvery summer it seems there is at least one book I’m still thinking about long after the windows are closed and the kids are back in school, a book I ponder and advise others to read. I’m not a fan of novels, but I do range far and wide, so we are talking about nonfiction from Destiny of the Republic to Wild Trees to The Soul of Shame and all the meaty, thrilling, deeply moving words in between. This year that memorable book is Ruined: a memoir by Ruth Everhart.

 

The author is a wife, a mother, a Presbyterian pastor, a blogger and a survivor of sexual violence. She and her roommates were held at gunpoint and raped during a long night of terror while seniors at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1978. As Reverend Everhart describes that night and its aftermath, you can feel her pain through the pages, a pain that goes far beyond the experience of her body to lacerations of the mind and spirit. Her journey includes an honest grappling with the sovereignty of God, a search for the true meaning of grace and a deep sense of compassion for all the lost and hurting souls in the world, especially those who feel they’ve been ruined.

 

While the book deals with heavy subjects, it is immensely readable – I finished its 300 pages in a day and a half. Everhart’s style is direct but intimate, taking the reader to the edge of evil, then pulling back to reveal an interior world straining toward light and love. It is a mark of her long healing that she has compassion not only for her sister sufferers but also for herself. “You are more than your sexual history. You are more than what happens to you. You are immensely valuable… Nothing is more washable than human skin. It is the most washable substance on earth. Thank God.” (p. 306)

 

I will recommend this book to my counseling clients, to others in ministry and to my friends. I will reflect upon it as I consider my own life journey and the scars I bear. I will think of it as I look around this vulnerable planet at all the things I might be tempted to believe are ruined. And I will return to it whenever I need the most powerful message Ms. Everhart offers her readers: hope.

 


 

Note: I did not receive a free copy of this book nor was I compensated in any way for this review. I first heard about it through the wonderful book blog/newsletter at Hearts & Minds books. Please check them out!