Keller’s Walking with God would make a great Christmas gift!

December 16, 2013

One of the best books I’ve ever read.

Last week, I finished Tim Keller’s Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Given how much I’ve blogged about it (and how much it has informed recent sermons) it won’t surprise you to know that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a book that God knew that I needed: It not only clarified and sharpened my thinking on questions of God’s sovereignty and providence, it touched my soul deeply. It encouraged me. It strengthened my faith. Thank God for this book!

I’m not presuming that you will need it the way I did. Just because I needed to go back to spiritual kindergarten doesn’t mean you do.

Still, so much good stuff here. I’ll leave you with one last illustration I haven’t yet blogged about. In a chapter entitled “Trusting,” he recounts the story of the patriarch Joseph and the series of coincidences and accidents that led to Joseph’s being sent as a slave to Egypt, where he would end up saving many lives as prime minister of Egypt, including the lives of his own father and brothers. Some of these “coincidences” include the following:

Jacob had to decide to send Joseph to see how his sons were doing grazing their sheep (Gen 37:13). Jacob had to believe that his sons were grazing at Shechem (Gen 37:12). If he had known that they were in Dothan (v. 17b), which was farther away and much less populated, he would likely not have sent him. When Joseph comes to Shechem, he had to “accidentally” run into a stranger who knew where his brothers had gone and who was friendly enough to initiate a conversation (v. 15). The stranger says he knew about the brothers’ whereabouts only because they were in such a remote place that they were able to get away with Joseph’s “disposal,” and the story of an animal attack in that region was plausible (v. 19-20). The oldest brother, Reuben, was against the mistreatment of Joseph, and he just happened to be away (v. 29) when the traders came by, enabling Judah and the others to sell Joseph into slavery (v. 26-28)…

Keller goes on to describe the series of coincidences that brought Joseph into Pharaoh’s court.

How many “coincidences” was that? We begin to lose count. But here’s what we know: Unless every one of these little events had happened just as they did—and so many of them were bad, terrible things—Joseph would have never been sent to Egypt But think how things would have gone if he had not gotten to Egypt. Enormous numbers of people would have died. His own family would have died of starvation. And spiritually, his family would have been a disaster. Joseph would have been corrupted by his pride, the brothers by their anger, and Jacob by his addictive, idolatrous love of his youngest sons.

Now we have looked at the theology of this before. According to the Bible, God is sovereign and in control, and at the same time, human beings have free will and are responsible for their choices. There it is as a theological proposition, but how much more vivid and powerful it is as a theological proposition when seen in an actual story. If the brothers had not betrayed Joseph and sold him into slavery, the family (and Joseph) would not have been saved from disaster and death. It was obviously part of God’s plan. God was present at every point, and was working even in the smallest details of the daily lives and schedules and choices of everyone. So this shows that “all things work according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:10-11; Rom 8:28).

So was it all right that they did what they did? Not at all. What they did was wrong—no one forced them to do it. And the shame and inner guilt crushed them. They needed a painful process by which they relived their evil behavior and were able to renounce it and get freedom and forgiveness.

How did all this come? It came through suffering…

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