Walking with God through Pain and Suffering
by Tim Keller
Chapter 2: “The Victory of Christianity”
Philosophy to “Save One’s Skin”
• One of the most important tasks of any philosophy or religion is to teach us how to face death.
• One of our greatest desires is to be loved and not be alone. So, we dread dying and our loved ones dying on us.
• We fear the slow march of time and the irreversibility of things.
• To live life well, capable of joy and love, we must learn how to conquer these fears.
• We must locate a meaning that can’t be touched by death. This can be done only by philosophy or religion.
Salvation through Reason
• The Greek Stoics believed in an impersonal “Logos” or rational orderliness that governed the universe.
• Moral“absolutes” could be rationally deduced from the natural world.
• The task of the human mind and reason was to perceive and align with the orderliness of the world.
• Face Death and Suffering:
o Live in accord with the universe and accept fate.
o Reason over emotion.
o Death is not the end, but a transformation to a new form.
Submitting to Fate, Detaching from the World
• Cicero/Seneca(Stoics) taught that death is not an evil thing and should not be feared.
• Grief is unavoidable, but it should be controlled. Ultimately, sorrow and grief are useless,with no positive function.
• Submit to fate and not protest or struggle against it.
• Stoicism similar to Eastern philosophies that taught the illusory nature of reality.
o No real evil or suffering
o No real individuals or material world
o Everything is actually a part of “the One, the Absolute Spirit”
• Stoicism and Eastern philosophies similar in that they diminish the individuality of the person and speak of an eternal existence, though not individual or personal.
• Their solution is to see everything as impermanent. Don’t get attached to anything. Don’t live in hope. Hope causes suffering.
A Greater Hope
• Christianity differed greatly from both Greek and Eastern philosophies.
• Early Christian teachers argued that Christianity made more sense of suffering.The actual lives of Christians proved it. Christians suffered better than the pagans.
• Augustine made the argument that Christians suffered and died better and that this made Christianity“the supreme philosophy”
• The Christian approach to pain and evil was superior because it offered a greater basis for hope.
• It offered the hope of bodily resurrection and a restored world.
• The resurrection meant that we would live in eternity as individual persons, not impersonal aspects of the universe.
• Our personalities will be sustained, beautified, and perfected after death in resurrection, and we will know and be known.
• The“Logos” of the universe is not an impersonal, rational orderliness, but a person—Jesus Christ—who can be loved and known.
A Greater Room for Sorrow
• Christian consolation gave far more scope to expressions of sorrow and grief.
• Christians can truly grieve and sorrow, but bathed in hope.
• Suffering is not dealt with through self-control and detachment but through relationship and hope.
• Christians don’t face adversity by stoically decreasing our love for the people and things of this world so much as by increasing our love and joy in God.
• Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace.
• Christianity strongly rejected impersonal fate along with its randomness and chance.
• Christianity believes in a single, personal Creator God who sustains the world in wisdom and love and provides fatherly care for his children.
The Victory of Christianity
• Christianity eventually became the dominant worldview in Western civilization for nearly 1500 years.
• The Christian doctrines of resurrection and future restoration remedied “irreversibility as a kind of death in the midst of life.”
• The Christian’s future hope was real and personal, bodily and eternal. It was a restoration of life.
• Christian teachers and preachers developed a mature and nuanced theology of suffering and counsel for the “cure” of suffering souls.
• Gregory the Great taught that suffers were in the hands of a wise God.
• He rejected the moralistic view of Eastern philosophies (and Job’s friends)that suffering is directly linked to our sins. Suffering in general is because of human sin, but its role is more complex than a simple moralistic explanation.
• Particular forms of suffering may be God’s chastisement for specific sins, but they may not be.
• Suffering may also be intended not to correct or punish past wrongs but to prevent future ones.
• Suffering may have no other purpose than to lead a person to love God more ardently.
Luther’s Reformation of Suffering
• The Medieval church over time developed a moralistic, meritorious view of suffering.
• Accepting suffering with patience can eliminate some of your sin debt and helps you earn favor with God and admission to heaven.
• Martin Luther and the Reformation sought to correct this theological error.
• Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone merited by the finished work of Christ alone.
• Before we can have the joy and love that helps us face suffering, suffering must first empty us of our pride and self-sufficiency leading us to find our true security in Christ.
The Theology of the Cross
• “Theology of the cross” vs. a “theology of glory.”
• The Gospel presents the exact opposite of what human beings expect. God comes in Christ to save not in power and glory but in weakness and humility and suffering.
• Only through weakness and suffering could sin be atoned.
• In Christ, the God-forsaken sinner has a Savior who has taken on himself the full depths of human estrangement from God—and overcome it.
• Christians cannot suffer with Christ before they have embraced the full benefits of Christ’s suffering for them.
The Rise of the “Immanent Frame”
• Enlightenment philosophy with its emphasis on the rational and scientific replaced the transcendent with the immanent.
• Humanity’s answers no longer came from outside themselves, from a transcendent God, but from inside themselves by reason.
• This brought increasing confidence in human ability and reason and moral ordering.
• God was altered by Deists and was now an impersonal creator, designer who created the world for our benefit that now operates on its own without his direct involvement.
• Humanity’s purpose became to use reason and free will for human flourishing,pushing God to the edges.
Natural Evil and the Lisbon Earthquake
• With the new immanent view of God, natural evil and suffering became increasingly an argument against the existence of God.
• The secularity of Deism made the problem of evil worse by making us more proud in our ability to reason and by making the world about us instead of about God.
Residual Christianity and the Problem of Evil
• Christianity in Western culture as unwittingly been influenced by Deism and the“immanent frame.”
• We now live in a culture (even in many churches) of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”
• We are in control of our own destiny, able to discern for ourselves what is right and wrong,and we see God as obligated to arrange things for our benefit, especially if we live a good enough life according to our chosen standards.
• Theism without certainty of salvation or resurrection is far more disillusioning in the midst of pain than is atheism.