Timothy Keller’s most recent entry, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.
Bought the iBook version a while back, but I’ve been avoiding it. Finishing Zealot, it felt like time for some Keller. I love Keller. An intellect with a huge heart of grace who puts his intellectual morsels on the counter so that someone, well, like me, can reach them easily.
It’s no small business writing about pain and suffering. So necessary to tread carefully here lest we tread all over those whose very lives are a book of pain and suffering. As Aslan did in Zealot, so Keller here won me over in the first few pages of his preface.
Two quick quotes that Keller makes to kick off his thoughts:
“I think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation . . . of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false.” —Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I do not fit the description; I do not live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to find our peace of mind? . . .
The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. Find out what the profile is, and identify the ways in which you do not fit it. But a sniper taking a single clean shot, not into a crowd but through the sight, reminds us horribly of death itself. Despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random.
And it is absolutely coming.” —Ann Pachett, Scared Senseless
What a quote from Becker. These are the first words of Keller’s book. Whatever we do on this planet must be done in the lived truth of the “terror of creation,” of the “rumble of panic underneath everything.” Another sentiment that will never make it into a Christian inspirational calendar. But it should.
Ann Patchett’s quote had as its original context the Washington D.C. sniper shootings.
For me, the quote came on the heels of my finishing Five Days In November by Clint Hill – a recounting of the JFK assassination by someone who was there. Talk about a senseless tragedy. The thing that Five Days did for me (to me) was immersing me in the living JFK, young, infused with hope, filled with life. I found myself flinching with the bystanders at the report of the gun shots. Since Hill doesn’t embellish the account with the experiences of others, the actual assassination isn’t told in slow motion.
And the whole world changes.
Hill is unequivocal that there was no crossfire, no conspiracy. He repeatedly echoes the groaning, aching sentiment, “How could one mentally deranged individual take such a promising, inspiring life; one unbalanced man turn the whole world upside down and throw everything into chaos?”
One wrong turn, one moment in time.
We desperately need conspiracies and carefully arranged explanations and theologies to at least give us the illusion of control, or we comfort ourselves with songs that God at least is in control. We suppose. We hope.
But just maybe we need to jettison that word, “control,” when it comes to ourselves or to God, for that matter. If creation is enduring one long sickening train crash in which we are all caught up together, perhaps it’s not comforting ourselves with the thought that God has the crash that is our life under control…perhaps it’s simply knowing, deep down, that we don’t endure the crash alone, that he feels the rumble of panic with us, in us, and that he cushions the fall.
And having been crushed in the crash himself, he brings us out with him on the other side of it.
Yes, Keller. You got me again. I’ll read…