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Discovering God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

Discovering God in the Midst of Pain and Suffering (Part 2 of 2)

Pastor Timothy Keller offers some perspective and hope for those times in life when trouble and hardship cause us to question our faith in God. (Part 2 of 2)


Listen to Part 1
Original Air Date: September 12, 2014

Opening:

Excerpt:

Tim Keller: Our assumptions are that if there is a God, it’s His job to give me a good life as long as I live a – live according to my standards. And so, that’s why…

Jim Daly: Yeah.

Tim: …the problem of pain is a bigger deal to us now and a bigger deal in the West. Western people melt down. They feel like it’s not right; it’s not fair. They really can’t handle it.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Yeah, we have a tendency to feel that pain and difficulty from broken things in our lives really separate us from God. Dr. Tim Keller is our guest on Focus on the Family once again, reflecting on the problem of pain and suffering and where God is in all of that. You’ll hear more from him today as we process the topic of pain and suffering on today’s broadcast. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: John, last time, Tim Keller was so insightful when sharing his thoughts about some of the positive things God can do through pain and suffering in our lives. It’s a difficult concept, but remember, the New Testament says very clearly, “Suffering leading to endurance, which leads to character, which leads to hope.” And uh, boy, Pastor Tim really came alive as he was connecting some of those dots for us with wisdom right from the Scripture. I found it very helpful. He explained that in general, suffering occurs when something valuable to us is threatened or taken away. He challenged us to think about what’s really important to us and how we can learn from the life of Job in the Bible and apply that. And we’re gonna hear more about Job today.

John: Dr. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City – that’s where we recorded this interview. He’s written a number of books and the one that forms the foundation for this conversation is called Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. And we have that and a CD or free download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s go ahead with the rest of the discussion now with Dr. Tim Keller and Jim Daly.

Body:

Jim: When you look at it, again, just an observation, I don’t have research to back this up, but traveling around the world on behalf of Focus and seeing other cultures, non-Western cultures, particularly, it’s interesting in the West, where we have more ease, more comfort, our needs are met relatively speaking compared to many other parts of the world, we tend to have greater vices in this regard. It’s a contradiction in some ways. I mean, folks that don’t have much, they’re busy workin’ hard and they’re…

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: …doing all those things. But it’s interesting to me that when we arrive at a certain place where those material needs are met, it’s almost like our spiritual desires get out of control. Is that a fair observation?

Tim: Yeah, that’s – I agree. If I would reflect on it, I would say, if you’re living in greater difficulty, there’s no doubt that during the Depression or places like that, I mean, even after 9/11…

Jim: Right.

Tim: …right after 9/11, when everybody thought we were in crisis, I mean, the comedy clubs were – nobody wanted to go out and make fun of things.

Jim: Churches were full.

Tim: Churches were full. There was a sense like, “If we’re gonna make it through here, we’re gonna have to get serious.”

Jim: Hm.

Tim: We’re gonna have to die to ourselves. We’re gonna have to tighten the belt. We’re gonna have to suck it up. We’re gonna have to work together. We’re not – we can’t be individuals finding our way. We’re gonna have to lock arms. It went away.

I always thought that if there was even one more bomb going off inside a mailbox, it would’ve changed New York permanently. But nothing ever happened. And I’d say within two years, because of the transience, that memory was gone corporately.

Jim: Right.

Tim: But there’s no doubt that um, that affluence and ease shows people, by the way, that uh, that there’s a spiritual emptiness there.

Jim: In fact, in your book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, you made this comment. I want to restate it and then you can tell me more about it. Um, you wrote that we have to get to the point of feeling that to obey God will bring us no benefits at all, before we can truly begin to change. Uh, again, in so much of Western theology, that seems counterintuitive. I mean, to get to the point where you believe there’s no benefit in being a Christian?

Tim: Yeah, well, let me go back to my – let’s do Focus on the Family stuff. When my middle son was around 10, he used to say to me, “Dad, I’ll lis – I’ll obey you, but you have to show me why this is good idea.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Now is that fair?

Tim: No, because what I said was, “That’s not obedience; that’s agreement. And I’m not your father; I’m your consultant. And what you’re saying is, ‘As long as I think it’s furthering my interests as I see them,’ as a 10-year-old, brilliant and wise person that you are, who can see the end from the beginning. ‘As long as what you’re telling me fits in with my agenda, uh, I’ll be happy to listen to you.’“ And what I said is, “What you’re really saying is you’re not gonna obey me. In other words, I am really not your authority at all. You don’t trust me more than you trust yourself. Uh, you’re using me as a way of uh, getting what you want. And as soon as I ask you for something that you don’t want, you’re outta here.”

And basically, as long as you’re obeying God and you think you’re getting good things from Him, you can’t tell whether you’re really loving Him. You might be just using Him. What you really love are the things you’re getting, not Him.

Jim: How do you know when you’ve reached that point?

Tim: When you’re getting nothing from obeying God, but God Himself, just knowing I’m pleasing Him. I’m getting nothing else out of it. And then I know I’m loving God. Then I know that I’m actually serving Him and not myself. We’re not using Him to serve myself.

Jim: And there’s no uh, quid pro quo.

Tim: Right. And see, it could be you’re there already, but generally not until suffering happens do most of us get there frankly.

Jim: Hm.

John: And that’s the point that you’re trying to make with that rather provocative statement, which is until you decide that there isn’t a personal benefit it’s really not obedience and trust.

Tim: Right. I also think that’s probably the point of the book of Job, that uh, because in the beginning of the book of Job, a very puzzling thing to most modern readers, God is having a – an argument with Satan.

John: Mmhmm.

Tim: And God says, “Have you seen my servant, Job? Uh, there is none like him in all the earth.” And Satan says, “Does Job serve God for nothing?”

Jim: Hm.

Tim: And see, in other words, “He’s not a servant. He’s actually not a servant. He’s just using You to get things. As soon as You took away the benefits of service, You’d see that he’s really – he will not serve You.” I heard one person say that the theme of the book of Job is that God can make men servants. That even Job, it took him to the end of the book to really get to the place where we could see that no matter what – even if he was getting nothing out of God, he wasn’t walking away.

Jim: You know, we always think of Scripture as past-tense and alive, but it was “back then”. Do you think Satan stands in front of God today and says to the Lord, “Tim Keller wouldn’t be serving You unless he got all these things from You.”

Tim: Well, you know, I think that there’s places in the Bible that talk – are trying to get across ideas that are hard for us conceive of, but the fact is the Bible – the word Satan means “accuser”, as you know.

Jim: Yes.

Tim: And he’s constantly trying to bring dishonor to God by accusing us, and trying to bring us down, and trying to knock us – and trying to knock us off being His servants. And then, Thomas Brooks, who wrote Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices – 1660s, he was a British Puritan – he’s got one place where he talks about the fact that Satan tempts and accuses. His two main strategies. And he says, “When he’s tempting you, he’s saying, ‘Go ahead. Sin. No problem. God’ll forgive you. No trouble. Don’t worry about it. You deserve it. God’ll forgive – that’s His job.’ That’s tempting on the way in. The minute you sin, Satan says, ‘He’ll never forgive you now. You call yourself a Christian now? You’ve brought dishonor. Don’t be ridiculous. You know you – there’s no way.’ On the way in, he tempts you. On the way – as soon as you get there, he accuses you.’“

Jim: Yeah, guilt.

Tim: It’s the one-two punch. And that is, as far as I know, what he is doing. To what degree he’s standing right in the presence of God to do it, I’m not really sure.

Jim: Let me ask you this question. I – I had a chat a while back with Philip Yancey on the broadcast.

Tim: Mmhmm.

Jim: And he raised a point that I’ve been thinking about often. And that is – I asked him – you know, why do we have pain and suffering? Why would God allow it? Kind of the age-old question that many of us think about. His answer was, “God didn’t want it this way. It was, in fact, the fall of mankind that evil entered into the world and disrupted what He had built to be perfect…”

Tim: Mmhmm.

Jim: “…and to be right.”

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: “And so when we, in essence, blame God for pain and suffering, we’re actually blaming the wrong entity.”

Tim: Yeah, that’s part of the answer, by the way. Um, I know Phil and I like that and I agree and he’s using – he’s actually kinda using the free-will defense in a way. In other words, the idea – and this is absolutely right – God did not create a world with evil and suffering in it. It wasn’t the design. Death wasn’t here. Suffering, tears, they weren’t here. Uh, okay, they came in through our sin and rebellion, which broke the world.

Jim: In which Jesus had to die…

Tim: That’s…

Jim: …for our sins.

Tim: …that’s right and that’s true. Even though I think that’s gotta be part of the answer, is that God allowed free will. He didn’t create a – an evil world. He allowed free will and we screwed the world up; that still can’t completely answer the question.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: For example, may I say, in the future, when we’re in Heaven, when we will love Him perfectly and all evil will be banished forever, won’t we still have free will?

Jim: Hm.

Tim: Sure, we’ll have free will. Are we gonna be robots? No. And here’s something else. If one of your children is running out in front of a car, you don’t say, “Hey, I don’t want to violate her free will,” you know. No, well, you – you violate her free will and save her life.

Jim: Correct.

Tim: Okay. So it just doesn’t seem that I’ve still got the answer there.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: In the book, I try to say that I’m all over the free will defense. I know that’s gotta be part of it. It has to be.

John: Hm.

Tim: Because God is not the author of evil. The Bible says it’s not, you know.

Jim: Right.

Tim: The author of evil is Satan and us and moral agents who have chosen to rebel against God. That’s exactly right. But it still doesn’t seem that God couldn’t have stopped it. I mean, I don’t see any reason why God – to say He couldn’t have stopped it, doesn’t seem to fit in with everything else. So, He’s still got some plan and He’s still got some purpose that I don’t know.

John: Mmhmm.

Jim: Well, and the fact that I think it’s clear in the Scripture that God’s presence and evil cannot be in the same proximity. I mean, that um, evil cannot be in God’s presence. Is that fair? Or…

Tim: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, that’s the reason why, when God is uh, all in all here on the earth, again, you know, when His knowledge covers the earth, as you know, as the waters cover the bottom of the sea, that there will be no more evil.

John: Dr. Tim Keller is our guest on today’s Focus on the Family with Jim Daly and he’s helping us to understand pain and suffering in this life and then, for the Christian, the joy to come when we get to Heaven. If you haven’t been able to listen to the entire conversation to this point, or you have to leave before the conclusion, please listen online, on your phone, or get in touch for a CD or download with additional content. Our number here is 800-A-FAMILY or you can find that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: Why is the answer to sorrow found in Christianity, if I could pose it that way? I mean, why does Christianity offer a different hope than the rest of the world’s religions?

Tim: Oh…

Jim: What is distinct?

Tim: Well, I would be happy to – to sit and I have with uh, people from other religions and say, “With the greatest respect to you personally, here’s why I think Christianity gives a – an answer to suffering that no other religion can give. The one is, the trouble with the reincarnation view is that there’s no unjust suffering. There’s no such thing as unjust suffering. And I’m sorry. I think there is. I think most of us sense that there is. And the Bible admits that there – that even though the human race deserves the role that we have, there are plenty of good people and bad people who are not getting what their moral uh, status deserves. There’s plenty of good people…

Jim: In both directions.

Tim: …Right, plenty of bad people who are actually living fairly comfortable lives. Plenty of really good people are living awful lives. And it’s not fair. And the Bible says it’s not fair. And Job is able to cry out and most of the Psalms talk about that. And God hears that complaint and He knows it’s true, that the world is broken and there’s unjust suffering.

So some religions won’t admit it, but Christianity says, “Yes, it’s wrong. It’s unjust.” But then on the other hand, there is no other religion that actually has a God who became vulnerable to suffering Himself.

Jim: Demonstrated it.

Tim: Demonstrated it by saying, “Suffering matters so much to Me that I’m willing to endure it in order to end it…

John: Hm.

Tim: …So that someday I can judge the world and not destroy everybody.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: As a – so that’s the second thing, that Christianity has that nobody else has got – a God Who actually experiences suffering…

Jim: Mmhmm.

Tim: …So He understands. I mean, that’s the whole point of He – well, not the whole point, but a big part of the book of Hebrews is that He suffered in every way as you have, so when you’ve got troubles, go to Him, because Jesus knows. I mean, there’s no other divine Lord that you can say, He’s been through it. Uh, or you can say about the heavenly Father, if you’ve lost a child, He’s lost a child. Or if you say about Jesus, if you’ve been betrayed, He’s been betrayed and so on.

As the third thing and by the way, is – that’s unique – the one is acknowledgement of unjust suffering. The second is the redemption through God’s own suffering. And the third is the resurrection. The other religions admit that someday you go off into a kind of spiritual bliss, which is a consolation for the life you’ve lost here. But the resurrection is the restoration of a life you’ve lost and getting the life that you actually never had. In other words, you don’t – don’t only get your old body back; you get the body you always wished you had. I mean, you get a resurrection body. And you get a uh, the new heavens and new earth. It’s not a kind of ethereal consolation for the life we’re losing. It’s really the restoration of it.

So the resurrection is unique. The idea of a suffering God, Who comes and suffers with us and therefore, understand us, is unique. And at the same time, the reality of unjust suffering, which especially secular people feel, Christianity can affirm. For all those reasons, it’s pretty different.

Jim: Let me ask you this question which I think is the question. In Christianity, we talk about the ultimate purpose in life being to glorify God.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: We – you probably talk about it from the pulpit here at uh, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York frequently. What does that look like? What does that actually mean to live our lives in such a way that glorifies God?

Tim: In the book, I actually say that that’s the purpose of uh, suffering. It has to be. We just don’t know how. It has to be, in the end, that it’ll bring God more glory for having happened. Like I – I used an illustration at one point in the book where one time I fell asleep and dreamt that my family was slaughtered by some ax murderer. I cannot remember exactly…

Jim: You gotta stop watchin’ movies.

Tim: Well – yeah, well, unfortunately, if you watch – that’s right. It was probably after watching some movie like that.

Jim: Or the news.

Tim: And of course, it was awful. It was very realistic. The minute I woke up, I mean, you know, it was wonderful. It was dream – was a dream. I hate to say it, but I loved my family a little bit more that minute than when I went to sleep. I mean, I wasn’t thinking about how much I loved them when I was going to sleep. I was thinking about – I was feeling sorry for the hard day I had the next day and all that. But when you have lost your family and get them back…

Jim: Hm.

Tim: …it just, you know, ratchets up the love and the appreciation. Somehow, uh, having lost creation and getting it back, getting to the place where He so restored it that – that the history of all evil was kind of uh, like a bad dream – that the power of the future glory is gonna be more real than the evil of the past. Uh…

Jim: So it’d be a fading memory.

Tim: Yeah, it will not have – in some ways, it’ll only make the future glory better for having happened, which is the ultimate defeat of evil.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: If evil, which is trying to destroy our happiness and destroy God’s glory, if it somehow enhances the future joy and the glory, then it will be the ultimate defeat of evil, because evil will only actually contribute to its own demise. So somehow, that’s gotta be true.

 

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