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

Air Date 09/12/2014

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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)

Episode Transcript


Drop-In: Domestic Violence

Jim Daly: Domestic violence is a heartbreaking reality in far too many homes, but most cases are never reported. Hi, this is Jim Daly with Focus on the Family. Today I blogged about the news of football player Ray Rice who was fired from his team because of domestic abuse charges. In my post I addressed why men and women get trapped in this situation, and the steps you can take to get out. You can read it at or get the link at .

Here at Focus on the Family we believe that any type of physical aggression in marriage is wrong, flat out. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship and you don't know where to turn, we're here to help you start the journey to safety and healing. Call one of our trusted counselors at 800-A-FAMILY that's 800-232-6459.

End of Drop-In Domestic Violence


Pastor Timothy 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 according to my standards.

Jim: How …

Tim: And so, that's why--

Jim: 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 Recap

John: Do you ever feel that pain and difficulty and you know, broken things in your life, that's just really inconvenient and how could God? Well, Tim Keller, reflecting on the problem of pain and suffering and difficulty in life. That was from our last "Focus on the Family" program and you'll hear more from him today about hardship--the hardship that visits all of us and how we can process that and walk through that better. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim: John, last time, Tim Keller (Chuckling), to be honest, he kinda surprised us a little bit by saying that he doesn't know why God allows us to suffer.

John: Yeah, it was a stark admission.

Jim: It was and it wasn't what you expect and when pressed a little further for answers about what positive things God can do through pain and suffering in our lives, that's where he came alive. I mean, you could see that he was connecting the dots. He shared some biblical wisdom and reasoning that frankly, I found 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 look at the life of Job and apply that. I mean, those are big things.

John: Yeah.

Jim: We'll hear more about the life of Job today, as Dr. Tim Keller explains and unpacks that experience that we read in Scripture.

John: He's the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and we recorded the broadcast in his offices in Manhattan. Dr. Keller has written a number of books and the one that forms the foundation for this conversation is called Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. We've got that available for you at . Let's go ahead with the rest of the discussion now with Dr. Tim Keller and Jim Daly.


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--

Tim: Uh-hm.

Jim: --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, 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 not just during Depression, 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 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--

Jim: Right.

Tim: --corporately. But there's no doubt that affluence and ease shows people, by the way, 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. 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. 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's do Focus on the Family stuff. When my middle son was around 10, he used to say to me, "Dad, I'll obey you, but you have to show me why this is good idea."

Jim: (Laughing) Now is that fair?

Tim: No (Laughter), because what I said was that, 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, 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. You're using me as a way of 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 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--

Tim: Yeah.

John: --until you decide that there isn't a personal benefit--

Tim: Right.

John: - -it's really not obedience and trust.

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

John: Uh-hm.

Tim: And God says, "Have you seen my servant, Job? 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 will not serve you. I heard one person say that the theme of the book of Job that God can make men servants. That--

John: Hm.

Tim: --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: Let me ask you this question. I had a chat awhile back with Philip Yancey on the broadcast.

Tim: Uh-hm.

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: Uh-hm.

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. 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. 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. I'm gonna go back to my original answer that impressed you all so much (Laughter), where your son says, you know, why does God allow pain and suffering and I just said, "I don't know." And I just let it go full stop and not say "but" or "and" and you know.

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 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: Hm.

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 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 all in all here on the earth, again you know, when His knowledge covers the earth, as the waters cover the bottom of the sea, that there will be no more evil.

Program Note:

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 .

End of Program Note:

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: (Clearing throat) Well, I would be happy to sit and I have with people from other religions and say, with the greatest respect to you personally, here's why I think Christianity gives 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 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 virtue, what their moral 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: Uh-hm.

Tim: --so that someday I can judge the world and not destroy everybody.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: So, that's the second thing, that Christianity has that nobody else has got—a God Who actually experiences suffering--

Jim: Uh-hm.

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. 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, 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 me is the restoration of a life you've lost and getting the life that you actually never had. In other words, you 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 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: You probably talk about it from the pulpit here at 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 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 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 exact …

Jim: (Chuckling)  You gotta stop watchin' movies.

Tim: Yeah, well, unfortunately, 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. I hate to say it, but I loved my family a little bit more (Chuckling) 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 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, having lost creation and getting it back, getting to the place where He so restored it that the history of all evil was kind of like a bad dream--

Jim: Hm.

Tim: --that the power of the future glory is gonna be more real than the evil of the past.

Jim: So, it'd be a fading memory.

Tim: Yeah, 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.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: So, somehow, that's gotta be true.

John: Hm. Well, take us back to Job then and help me understand how God was glorified out of Job's ongoing long suffering time. I mean, how does that look practically?

Tim: Well, here's two answers. Of course, we hardly know, but I have a speculative thing to say. One is, Job never was told. You know that one of the things that's most striking about the whole thing is, that when God shows up at the end, He just says, "Look who I am; look who you are" and never tells him, doesn't tell him anything about the dialogue with Satan. [He] doesn't tell him anything about anything. He just gives him no reason at all. And Job says, "Just seeing You, it's enough." But He never tells him why.

John: Hm.

Tim: However, think about this. What if God had said in the middle of the book, He said, "Listen Job; I want you to know the reason why this is all happening is, you're gonna be someday one of the most famous people in the history of the world?"

Jim: Hm.

Tim: Hundreds of millions of people will read about you.

John: Uh-hm.

Tim: Hundreds of millions of people will say, "What a great God. What a great man. How much we've learned." You know, you're gonna be one of the key figures shaping the way people think about evil and suffering until the end of time.

John: Hm.

Tim: Then he would've said, "Oh, wow. Really! Okay." (Laughter) "Okay, I better … stiff upper lip. I'll be okay." He wouldn't have been serving God."

John: Hm.

Jim: Interesting.

Tim: He wouldn't have been serving God at all. What he would've been saying is, "Wow, okay. It's worth it." And he would've pulled it all together and he wouldn't have been doing it for God, which is the point. The point is, he wouldn't have been turned into the servant of God, who loved God for Himself alone. He loved God for Himself alone and that's what he learned and that's what changed the world by the meaning of the book. But in a weird way, of course, Job has glorified God, look it. You and I are talking about him here--

John: Uh-hm.

Tim: --thousands of years later. But on the other hand, he couldn't know that, or he wouldn't have actually grown into the man God needed him to be.

Jim: Tim, we've talked a lot about, you know, scriptural truth and the condition of the heart and how pain and suffering actually work for our good, even though it doesn't feel right.

Tim: Right.

Jim: Let's bring it to a more practical level, the man or the woman that's suffering from a terminal cancer--

Tim: Uh-hm.

Jim: --or a divorce that's just happened, that's ripped the other spouse's heart apart. Children are torn in that environment. You can fill in any position that someone listening right now might be going through--

Tim: Okay.

Jim: --the loss of a job, you know, all the trauma that occurs. Speak to that person--

Tim: Sure.

Jim: --right now about how, as they cry themselves to sleep tonight on the pillow, 'cause they don't have money in the bank. They don't know how they're gonna feed their children tomorrow, whatever it might be, speak to that person, how you take that first and second step to say, "God, I don't know what's gonna happen, but I'll trust You."

Tim: Well, I think every instance of suffering, if you're asking the question how do I handle this? How do I face it as a believer? There's a core for all suffering and then there's always certain specific things that are peculiar to that.

So, for example, if you've been betrayed, you have to work on forgiveness. Whereas, if you're a farmer and the crop didn't come in and you're facing the loss of your farm, you see, in some ways, every bit of suffering is different. You're facing terminal cancer, you're gonna die. You have to deal with fear. If you're going through a divorce, you have to forgive. Everything is different.

On the other hand, there's a core and here's where the core is I think. I read years ago a book by David Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was a set of sermons. It's called Spiritual Depression: Causes and Cures. He's got one chapter called "In God's Gymnasium." And he's looking at Hebrews 12, where it talks about trials and suffering, which are discipline for us.

The word for God disciplining us and training us through suffering is the word gymnasto, from which we get our word "gymnasium."

Jim: Uh.

Tim: And he said, it's a workout and here's how he says, think about, if you're doing an exercise, as you're doing it, you feel like you're getting weaker, right? So, let's just say you pick up barbells and you're doing bicep curls. Do you feel like, after 10, that you're getting stronger and stronger? No, you feel weaker and weaker, as you are actually getting stronger, because you're taxing the muscles, which will bounce back.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: The important thing in the gymnasium is to simply go through it even though you feel like you're getting weaker and weaker and weaker, just go through it. Do it all. Do it all and when it's all over, you'll find that you've grown in so many ways. The core of suffering is to stay faithful, don't stop reading the Bible. Don't stop praying. Don't stop going to church. Don't stop obeying the Ten Commandments. Don't get into the medicating behavior we were talking about before.

Jim: Don't' rationalize.

Tim: Don't rationalize. Don't get into bitterness and self-pity. Do everything you can in prayer to simply say, "Lord, I'm just gonna take the next step.  I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I'm gonna trust You. I'm gonna take the next step and every day I'm gonna go through my paces. I'm gonna go through the normal things that I always did as a Christian, but in suffering, I don't feel like doing; I'm gonna do them anyway, which means of grace Bible study prayer, fellowship, serving other people, worship. You just do it. That's the core.

Jim: Hm.

Tim: Because when it's over and it will be over, you will find, oh, my goodness. It's just like bicep curls. It's like all that stuff. I am in far better spiritual shape than I was before. Now that's not to say that there aren't specifics around every kind of suffering. But I think that's the core. Is …--

Jim: No, I think …

Tim: --acting like you're in God's gymnasium.

Jim: That is a good way to think about it. The other thing and I would ask you as a theologian, I get the impression when we respond in that way, God smiles. It's almost like Stephen. It's dramatic, where Stephen is stoned for what he is saying and Saul, later Apostle Paul--

Tim: Right.

Jim: --is watching that. But Jesus stands to His feet. There's something in me that says, when God sees faithfulness--

Tim: Yes.

Jim: --in our hearts, He smiles.

Tim: It glorifies Him.

Jim: Yeah, it's almost like a human father when we see something our sons or daughters do that is right--

Tim: Yeah.

Jim: --we go, okay; he's getting' it.

Tim: Yeah.

Jim; And I think our heavenly Father does that--

Tim: Absolutely--

Jim: - -in that case.

Tim: -- have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. And then Satan goes out and screws up his life. The next day, you know, like he comes before God again and God says to Satan, "Have you seen My servant Job? There's none like him in all the earth. You've done this and this and this and he's still serving Me."

Jim: Yeah. And when you look at it, the end of this, whatever "this" is and we don't know in full what this life is truly all about. We have glimpses of it. We have the Scripture to look at. But when it's all done, if we have pleased the Father's heart, in the end, we've done well.

Dr. Tim Keller, author of the book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, it's been wonderful to have you on "Focus on the Family."

Tim: It's been fun to be here, too. Always has been.

Jim: And it's great to be with you in New York.

Tim: Yeah and you got good weather.

Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, that's right.


John: What a great opportunity for personal growth when you listen to Dr. Tim Keller. And during these past couple of days on "Focus on the Family," he's been sharing some very deep and rich insights. And Jim, this is the kind of content that we revel in sharing with our listeners. We want to grow people in their faith and this broadcast, I think probably went a long way toward that.

Jim: Well, I hope so. You know, we live in a day and age where people are liable to believe anything that comes along and it's easy for even new Christians, particularly here in North America, to become disillusioned when life gets tough. And that is really not the path that the Lord wants for us. When life gets tough, we should get deeper into Christ and better understand what He might have for us there.

Tim's addressed the issue of suffering here on our program and I'm so very thankful for how God is using him. He is doing a great job communicating the truth of God's Word. I'm also thankful for what God is doing to change lives in a miraculous way through Focus on the Family, too, as hearts are drawn to Christ and there is encouragement for the weary person. And a lot of us are in that spot. We're weary. We've got many things coming at us--family issues, etc. We want you to know that we have counseling services here for you. We handle about 70, 75,000 counseling calls a year and you know what? We're here for you. If you need us, call us and John, you can give those details in a minute.

I also want to invite you to join us to bring ministry to those thousands of people who need our help. And again, we do it all in the name of Christ. A monthly gift of 20, 30 or even $50 does so much to help us with our budget. We call it the Friends of the Family. I think it's an apropo name and I hope you'll consider standing in the gap. Jean and I, that's how we give our support here at Focus to be a Friends of the Family member. And it really helps the ministry even out the low spots of the year and take care of the budgetary needs.

John: It really is a great way for you to support Focus on the Family on an ongoing basis. And when you become a Friend of the Family today, we'll send a copy of Tim Keller's great book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. It's our way of saying thank you. It'll equip you to help others. It'll equip you to deal with some of the difficult things in your own life.

And you know that he is a deep thinker, very wise and there's a lot you can learn from Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Again, make a gift today when you become a Friend of the Family member and we'll offer that book to you and also some other resources to keep you growing and thriving as an individual and as a family.

Our number here for donations or if you'd like to speak with a counselor is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or you can find out more at .

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back here Monday. We'll have Cynthia Tobias with us. She'll offer trusted advice about sibling rivalry as we help you and your family thrive.

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Timothy Keller

View Bio
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he founded in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. He is also the chairman of Redeemer City to City, which plants new churches in New York and other cities around the world, and publishes resources for faith in an urban culture. Timothy is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include The Reason for God, The Prodigal God and Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God. Learn more about Timothy by visiting his website,