Premier Unbelievable’s Ruth Jackson spoke with Kathy Keller about life after the death of her late husband Timothy Keller; pastor and New York Times bestselling author, as well as how her spiritual life has changed as a result 

Ruth Jackson (RJ): Kathy, I want to start by asking how you and your family are?

Kathy Keller (KK): Every day is partially hard and partially joyful. The joyful part is just imagining Tim, completely healed, happy and whole, at rest and in glory. And then the part where I go off and cry into my pillow is where I miss him. I have a friend who has been widowed for ten years, and she says she’s still getting what she calls ‘sideswiped’. She’ll pick a book off the bookshelf, and it’ll have her husband’s notes in the margins or something like that. And she’ll find herself in a puddle. So I don’t expect that to go away. 

‘The worst thing God can do for you is to let you be happy, content and satisfied’

RJ: You and Tim had been married for 48 years; are there any nuggets of wisdom that you would give to a couple who are just starting their marriage journey together?

KK: I guess my top piece of advice would be learn your loved one’s love language. You can miss each other if you don’t realise that their love language might be words of affirmation and encouragement, and instead you’re being helpful, which can translate as critical. 

Tim and I used to quote John Newton’s words all the time, that the biggest danger of a happy marriage is idolatry. I had no idea how true that was until Tim was gone, and there was this big hole in my life where I had put him instead of Jesus. There was the comfort and security from his day-to-day presence that I should have been finding in Jesus. The other piece of advice is keep your own relationship to Christ warm and alive, and don’t rely on the person that’s loving you for all the love that you feel that you need. You need to get that love from God.


RJ: You studied at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with the intention of getting ordained, but while you were there your views on the ordination of women changed somewhat. You’ve written in detail about this in Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles, but could you summarise here?

KK: As I studied I learned from scholars to trust the inspiration and authority of scripture. It was clear that in scripture there were different roles for men and women, but they weren’t meant to oppress or make women insignificant at all. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the word used for Eve, which is translated as ‘helpmate,’ is the Hebrew word ‘ezer,’ which is most frequently used to describe God. So it’s somebody who brings resources to the relationship that you don’t have and that you need. Then I got to Philippians 2, where it says that Jesus laid aside his glory, submitted himself and became a servant and a slave. And I thought to myself: “I’ve read Ephesians 5, that the husband is the servant, to be the watch of the wife to make her pure, and I’m supposed to be submissive, but it’s not really my personality. However, if it didn’t injure the Son of God to be submissive for the purpose of our salvation, it’s not going to hurt me for the purpose of living in this world, holding marriage together, raising a family.” 

The thing that you fear the most losing is the thing that you are depending the most on

The very word ‘submission’ sounds oppressive to some people. A husband should be a servant leader, who’s imitating Jesus, and who understands power is something that you use to protect and to serve. Rather than someone who gets to hold the remote, or pick the colour of the car or says what’s going to be for dinner…That’s what the disciples thought power was – to be high and mighty and tell other people what to do. I know that it is often the definition used in relationships, even Christian relationships sadly. But that’s not the definition that Jesus used. It was just really clear that there are supposed to be different roles for men and women.

RJ: The last time I spoke to Tim he spoke so beautifully about the fact that he and you would never want to go back to the kind of spiritual life that you had before the cancer. Would you say a bit about that? 

KK: It’s God’s fatherly goodness in saying: “You need to shed all the accretions of idolatry that you have been collecting without even realising it. You need to focus on me. You need to examine yourself more seriously than you ever have. Eternity is just around the corner and you’re not ready for it.” I don’t remember who said it, but it’s quoted all the time: “Death concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

RJ: So how do we respond to unanswered prayer, particularly in relation to healing? Tim mentioned in that interview that he and you would pray for healing. 

KK: Well, there’s no such thing as an unanswered prayer, but sometimes the answer is no. If God doesn’t give us the things we asked for, we have to reassess whether we’re just treating him as a vending machine. God answered many of our prayers whenever Tim was sick, not ultimately the one where he was healed, but he lasted a lot longer than most people with [terminal] pancreatic cancer and he had a lot of time to think and to work, etc. We were not very well prepared for him to die, because we thought the treatment that he had gotten in June of 2022 was going to work again in April of 2023. But his body just couldn’t sustain it. I remember Tim once said: “If I thought God would answer every prayer that I prayed, I’d never pray again. Because I’d be terrified of asking for the wrong thing. I mean, if I got every prayer that I ever prayed, I’d be married to two other people. So it doesn’t bother me to have an unanswered prayer.”

We can’t hold on to hope but we can hold on to Jesus

RJ: Tim spoke to me of ‘scan-xiety’, which I thought was a great word – describing that terrible fear of waiting for test results. Is there any encouragement you could give to those crippled by anxiety, for whatever reason?

KK: Anxiety disorders are a real thing. If you have a broken leg, you don’t pray for it to be healed – you go get a cast on it. So there are times in which medication is indicated. My sister has a progressive lung disease, which makes it very hard for her to breathe. The more anxious she gets about it, the worse her breathing becomes. So her doctor has recently put her on an anti-anxiety medication that she takes a very low dose of; it’s been very helpful. Don’t neglect medication, if it’s going to be helpful to you. 

Tim always said: “Trace your anxieties back and you will find your idols.” I can promise you that it’s true – the thing that you fear the most losing is the thing that you are depending the most on. You need to examine how much of an idol you’ve made and whether you’re trusting in the health of that person, or having that job, or whatever the issue is, as the thing that’s going to be what saves you rather than Jesus.


Tim and Kathy Keller

RJ: Is there anything you’ve learned through this difficult season that you’d want to share with someone who is struggling at the moment? How can we hold on to hope, even in the most difficult of circumstances?

KK: We can’t hold on to hope but we can hold on to Jesus, knowing that he holds on to us. If you just want to feel hopeful and cheerful about your circumstances, there will be days when that’s possible, and days when it’s not. But the hope that we have in Jesus is something that is not in question. He’s preparing a place for us, and we’re going to be with him forever. This part of our lives is going to be nasty, brutish and short. We should use every opportunity we have to help other people navigate it. But we shouldn’t mistake it for our home. You know, the worst thing God can do for you is to let you be happy, content and satisfied, because then you’ll never ask any of the big questions, any of the things that will lead you to him.

You can watch the full interview here