Tim Keller Pastor Dies at 72 | Death Can Only Make Me Better: Remembering Tim Keller (1950–2023)

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Today we say farewell to our friend, pastor and author Tim Keller. Tim passed away in New York City at the age of 72. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020.

Over the years, Dr. Keller graciously appeared as a guest on this podcast, leaving us with nine rich APJ episodes on topics like vocation (or work) and on the themes of prayer and solitude. I’m thankful for the time he invested with us.

Cancer, for Dr. Keller, was an old nemesis. Back in 2002, he was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a battle he would fight between 2003 and 2004. God would heal and restore Keller, but not before thyroid surgery knocked him out of the pulpit for three months. A decade later, Keller preached a sermon on boldness in the face of death and recounted what he learned during that first cancer battle, opening up about his fears as he was rolled into the operating room. In that moment, he caught a glimpse of something otherworldly. He saw the sheer magnitude of God’s glory and God’s joy beyond this world of pain and suffering and cancer and death.

I want to play for you a sermon clip that comes to my mind on this day, celebrating his life, knowing he has passed into the presence of God and into God’s incredible, unspeakable joy that the rest of us are left longing for. Here’s Tim Keller, in 2013, answering this question: Where do we find courage for life’s scariest moments?

To me, my favorite version of this example of what real courage is comes out of this little passage near the end of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’re one of the three or four people in the world who has never heard of The Lord of the Rings, it’s a story. There are these two little heroes. One is the master, and one is the servant of the master. Sam is the servant, and he loves his master. They’re on this terrible quest, and at one point, his master is imprisoned in a tower. Sam rescues Frodo, his master, largely by screwing himself up and saying, “You are not going to hurt him. I’m going to do this. You can’t stop me. I’m the great . . . here I come.” He does rescue him.

After that, they’re still on their terrible quest, and the danger is still very real. One night, Sam looks up into the sky and sees a star. This is in the book, not the movie. This is what the passage says:

Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart. . . . For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now . . . his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him . . . [and he fell] into a deep untroubled sleep. (922)