Walking with God through Pain & Suffering
by Tim Keller
Chapter 11: Walking
“When through fiery trials
Thy pathways shall lie,
My grace all sufficient,
shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee;
I only design
Thy dross to consume,
And thy gold to refine.”
-How Firm a Foundation-
Walking with God in Suffering
- One of the main metaphors in the Bible for facing affliction is walking.
- Walking through darkness
- Walking through deep waters
- Walking through slippery and dangerous mountain paths
- Walking indicates progress.
- We are to walk through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.
- The metaphor of walking through fire is one of the most helpful metaphors.
- When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:2-3, 5)
- Believers are not promised exemption from trouble.
- The promise is that God will be with us, walking beside us in it.
- Suffering is like a refiner’s fire, like a forge or furnace (1 Peter).
- A furnace can obliterate or improve, depending on the object placed into the fire and the manner in which it is treated.
- Adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a forge does with metal ore.
- When gold is put through fire it may soften or melt, but it will not kindle and go to ashes.
- The impurities that are mixed with the gold are burned up or separated from the gold, making the gold more pure and beautiful.
- We have many blemishes in our character that we are often blind to in ourselves.
- Suffering comes and reveals our impurities and draws them out, in order to refine us.
- But, it depends on our response.
- Adversity does not automatically cleanse the impurities from our character.
- We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire.
- Knowing him personally while in our affliction is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker in it.
Three in the Furnace
- The promise of Isaiah 43:2-3 became literally true in the story of the three young Israelite men in Babylon (Daniel 3).
- They would literally have to go through fire, into the furnace, for their faith in God.
- They exhibited complete trust in God and so were able to be confident yet humble in the face of their affliction.
- They confidently believed God could and would rescue them, but they also humbly acknowledged that they did not know the mind of God.
- Faith is not believing that God will do something, no matter what, without any exceptions.
- Faith is believing that God will do something, if it is God’s will to do it.
- We can be confident in the power and might of God, but at the same time not be arrogant in our expectation that God will do exactly what we think he should.
- A prayer not answered exactly as requested is not an indication of the weakness of our faith or of the weakness of God’s ability to answer.
- Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were ready for deliverance or death. They were already “spiritually fireproofed.”
- God would deliver them from death or he would deliver them through
- God would be glorified either way.
- Their greatest joy was to honor God, not to use God to get what they wanted in life.
- As a result, they were fearless. Nothing could overthrow them.
Four in the Furnace
- The three Hebrew young men did not go through the fire alone.
- As Isaiah 43 said, God walked with them through the flames.
- The fourth “man” who appeared was likely the Angel of the LORD, or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
- When Jesus came to earth, he entered into our weakness and walked beside us through the difficulties of life.
- He experienced them with us, and then endured the ultimate suffering for us.
- Jesus endured the fire alone in our place so that we might be forgiven by God.
- Now we can have the assurance of God with us in the fire, because Jesus suffered for us alone in the fire.
Lessons of the Furnace
- If you believe in Jesus and you rest in him, then suffering will relate to your character like fire relates to gold.
- Suffering is the only way to:
- know who you truly are, including your strengths and weaknesses
- become a compassionate person who helps others who are hurting
- develop a profound trust in God that will fortify you against the disappointments of life
- become wise about how life goes
- God is with us in the fire. He has lived it, so he understands. He is near and available to be known and depended upon.
- He walks with us, but will we walk with him?
- If we have created a false “God-of-my-program,” then when life falls apart we will simply assume he has abandoned us and we won’t seek him.
- How do we come through suffering strengthened and not broken?
- We must walk with God.
- Treat God as God.
- Know God is there with you.
- Remember the gospel.
- Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing you can do.
- A heart forgetting the gospel will be torn between anger and guilt.
- We must remember that Jesus went through the ultimate fire to save us. Now he will be with us in the smaller fires of our lives to purify us.
Ways to Walk with God
- Walking is nondramatic, rhythmic.
- It consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up with over a long time.
- A walk is a day in and day out praying, Bible and Psalms reading, obeying, talking to Christian friends, going to corporate worship, committing to and fully participating in the life of the church.
- A walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.
- Walking with God means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, sorrow, or fears.
- There will be progress, but it will typically be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking.
- Grieve and weep
- Trust and pray
- Think, thank, and love
- These are complementary actions, not stages or steps.
- Some may be more important at different times depending on the person, the circumstances, and the type of adversity.
- No two paths through suffering are identical.
- All of these, however, are helps that the Bible gives us for walking with God through suffering.