An epilogue is a section at a book’s end otherwise known as a conclusion. I’m not sure anything written on suffering has a conclusion–seems there’s always more to say.
Nevertheless, Keller concludes his excellent book by summarizing in ten points his counsel on suffering. He reminds us that “if our hearts and minds are engaged” by the biblical theology of suffering then, when suffering comes, we won’t be surprised by it and can respond in scriptural ways.
“First, we must recognize the varieties of suffering” (p. 320). They include suffering brought on by one’s bad behavior, by attacks from others, by “life” (illness, death of a loved one, etc.) and horrendous suffering such as a mass shooting. Different suffering generally requires different responses.
“Second, [we] must recognize distinctions in temperament between [ourselves] and other sufferers” (p. 320). The way God helped another sufferer may not be the way he’ll help you, because you are temperamentally different.
“Third, there is weeping. It is crucial to be brutally honest with yourself and God about your pain and sorrow” (p. 320,321). One can’t be emotionally strengthened by refusing to admit his weakness. The psalmists call us to pour out our soul to the Lord.
“Fourth, there is trusting” (p. 321). Weeping, we can plead, “Let this cup pass from me.” But we must reach the point of faith-submission: “May your will be done.” Trust his wisdom (he is sovereign). Trust his love (he’s been through what we’re going through).
“Fifth, we must be praying” (p. 321). Even though Job complained and pleaded his cases, he did it all to God. Even if dry, we must meet God in his Word and, if possible, in corporate worship. We may not want to pray, but we can ask God to move us to want to pray.
“Sixth, we must be disciplined in our thinking” (p. 321). Keller counsels, “You must meditate on the truth and gain the perspective that comes from remembering all God has done for you and is going to do.” Use Psalm 42 to speak to your soul.
“Seventh, we should be willing to do some self-examining” (p. 321). The question to ask: What weakness is this suffering showing about me?
“Eighth, we must be about reordering our lives” (p. 322). Suffering often reveals we love something too much or God too little. Suffering will do us good if we learn in it to love God more. “This happens,” Keller explains, “by recognizing God’s suffering for us in Jesus Christ, and by praying, thinking and trusting that love into our souls” (p. 322).
“Ninth, we should not shirk community” (p. 322). Suffering can create isolation. But we need the love, compassion, support and Bible-doctrine-preaching of a community of believers.
“Tenth, some forms of suffering require skill at receiving grace and forgiveness from God, and giving grace and forgiveness to others” (p. 322). If suffering is self-caused, we must repent. If it’s other-caused, we must forgive.
“Doing these things, as George Herbert writes, will first bring your ‘joys to weep’ but then your ‘griefs to sing’” (p. 322).
* * *
Ironically, on this last day of Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (my second time through), I find myself languishing under the dark cloud of discouragement. How can that be? Well, I know I’m shirking community (#9 in the summary). That’s because “going to church” is a huge challenge, and, besides, what I find in local churches seems hardly worth the effort. (Is that arrogant?)
Furthermore, as I’ve openly confessed, suffering has shown I love walking more than I love God (#8). So I’ve repented and remembered God’s suffering for me in Christ, but some days his love just doesn’t reach my heart.
So I’ve learned one more lesson that Keller implies: to rise above the emotional darkness of suffering I have to fight the fight of the faith. Sleeping with Keller’s book under my pillow won’t do it. Nor will reading alone do it. I have to use it–and primarily the Scripture–to fight.
And when I don’t feel up to fighting, I have to drag myself to the battlefield anyway, read God’s Word (even if it seems to reach no further than my eyes!), mumble my prayers (even if they’re like dust in my mouth) and wait to see what God will do. “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).
And I must remember how that psalm ends . . .
” . . . let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:11,12).