I wanted to share with you a review I recently posted regarding a helpful book I just read: If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.
The so-called “Problem of Evil” has been contemplated and discussed long enough for any discerning person to recognize that no book on the subject will exhaustively treat, or definitively solve, the “problem.” So, as long as one goes in with that understanding, this book should not be a major disappointment.
If there is a disappointment regarding the book, it is that there is no attempt to answer the question of how and all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing God could allow evil to exist in the first place. This seems to be the crucial question in the discussion and it is simply side-stepped as unknowable. Alcorn states, “God has chosen to remain silent on this question, which may mean something significant.” (50) For someone looking for a significant theodicy, looking for an answer to the “why evil” question, this is not the right book.
The real value of this book, however, is not found in its philosophical depth, but rather its theological clarity and its practical relevance. In terms of theological clarity, the book deals at length with issues such as the attributes of God, the redemptive work of Christ, and the Divine Sovereignty/Human Responsibility question, to name a few. Alcorn addresses these issues both historically and contemporarily.
The practical relevance of this book is likely its most appealing feature. It seems that every other page has a personal anecdote, illustrating the point being discussed in the life of a person who has walked down the road of pain and suffering. Whether personal friends of Alcorn, or simply others he interviewed in the writing process, “real people” tell the story of how God has used suffering in their lives to draw them closer to Him. The point of this book really is to help people see how God can use pain and suffering in people’s lives as they trust in Him through the process.
Two audiences come to mind as those who would most benefit from this book: Pastors and hurting believers, those living in the crucible of pain and suffering. For pastors, this book is a wealth of information for counseling, sermon illustrations, and powerful quotes to use in both contexts.
For those who are living in the “valley of the shadow of death,” the encouragement from this book comes both in terms of the theological reminders of the person and work of God, and through the encouragement of fellow travellers who have walked the path of pain and suffering and who are testifying to the goodness and faithfulness of God throughout the process.
This book is not likely to be a major tool in bringing many unbelievers to Christ, in and of itself. This is, in part, due to the avoidance of the “why evil” question noted above and also the sheer mass of the book, a whopping 500 pages. This book may, however, give ample theological material and spiritual support/encouragement to beleivers who will then be challenged to proclaim faithfully and broadly the goodness and faithfulness of the God they know and love to those who have allowed the existence of pain and suffering to close their hearts to Him. If that occurs, Alcorn’s purpose in writing will have been achieved – “I pray that readers of If God is Good will not only find help for themselves, but life-changing insights to share with others – believers and unbelievers, family and friends and neighbors and co-workers – in their time of greatest need.” (5)
More than anything, I greatly appreciate the Christ-centered approach of the book, demonstrated in Alcorn’s final sentence, “When it comes to goodness and evil, present suffering and eternal joy, the first Word and the last is Jesus.” (494) My hope is that God will use this book to impact the lives of belivers, who will then share God’s goodness with those who need to know Christ – all for the glory of God.
(FTC Disclaimer – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)