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Suffering and the Goodness of God Hardcover – September 22, 2008
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"When people are hurting they need biblical answers, not platitudes. Here the editors and authors have thoroughly combed the Scriptures to give us the answers we need in tough times. This book should help both those who are suffering and those called upon to comfort and encourage others in their suffering."
—Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness
"The skeptic chides: 'If God is good, he is not God; if God is God, he is not good.' With Scripture to answer the pain of real life questions, and with real life pain to question Scripture, these theologians address the hardest questions with honesty, tenderness, and deep truth."
—Bryan Chapell, President Emeritus, Covenant Theological Seminary; Senior Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois
"Those who read this book will thank the gifted team of authors for their careful biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical engagement with the problem of suffering and evil. This timely book addresses these crucial and challenging issues with clarity, conviction, and pastoral sensitivity. Readers will be strengthened, edified, and encouraged. I highly recommend this most important book."
—David S. Dockery, president, Trinity International University
"Morgan and Peterson have assembled a fine community of biblical scholars and theologians, all committed to Christ and the church, to address the problem of suffering. There are no easy answers to this problem, but there are plenty of wrong answers, misunderstandings, and confusion. This book-this community-will point you in the right direction."
—Stephen J. Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College; Chief Academic Officer, Ligonier Ministries; author, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
"This volume should be warmly embraced by readers anxious to receive realistic good news from the Bible on this perennially-important subject. The writers are biblical, pastoral, reflective, and honest. I am grateful for their helpful and theologically-rich analysis."
—Paul R. House, Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School; author, Old Testament Theology
About the Author
Christopher W. Morgan (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) is a professor of theology and the dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. He is the author or editor of sixteen books, including several volumes in the Theology in Community series.
Robert A. Peterson (PhD, Drew University) is a writer and theologian. He taught for many years at various theological seminaries and has written or edited over thirty books.
Bob Yarbrough (PhD, University of Aberdeen, Scotland) is professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was previously professor of New Testament and department chair at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author or coauthor of several books and is active in pastoral training in Africa.
William Edgar (DTheol, University of Geneva) is professor of apologetics and John Boyer Chair of Evangelism and Culture at Westminster Theological Seminary. William lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Barbara. They have two children and three grandchildren.
John S. Feinberg (PhD, University of Chicago) is department chair and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of Ethics for a Brave New World (with Paul D. Feinberg) and is general editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.
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As a result, countless gallons of ink have been spilt on this issue. This recent volume looks at the issue through the lens of Christianity. It explores how God and suffering are to be understood in light of biblical revelation. Given that so much has already been written on the subject, it is hard to expect anything radically new or different to appear here.
But the ten essays presented here by eight evangelical authors make for a nice overview of the biblical discussion of the issue. Many similar sorts of things have been written before, but this book offers a nice collection of articles dealing with the main themes.
Thus there are several chapters on how the Old Testament addresses the problem; how the New Testament treats this issue, how the bible story line as a whole deals with it; the theological and philosophical problem of evil; and other aspects to the debate.
Walter Kaiser's two chapters on how suffering is handled in the Old Testament are nicely presented. He spends time on the main documents, such as the Book of Job, the Wisdom literature, Lamentations and the lament psalms, and the story of Joseph.
He also looks at eight types of suffering found in the Old Testament. Of course there is retributive suffering, that is, reaping what one sows. It is "one of the fundamental principles by which God governs the world". Choices have consequences, and bad choices (sin) invariably meet with negative consequences.
Educational or disciplinary suffering is also clearly taught in the Hebrew Scriptures. That God can use hardships and trials to perfect us, to mould our character, and make us more like him, is a common theme of both Testaments.
The difficult question of the problem of evil is covered by John Frame, Writing as he does from a strongly Reformed perspective, he emphasises the sovereignty of God in all this. But he looks at how God can be seen as in control of all things, while not being the author of evil.
Thus Frame looks at differing types of evil, different ways to understand God's will, and how a good God can use evil for good ends. In this discussion broader questions of how human freedom and divine sovereignty can be reconciled are also explored. Readers may not agree with all the arguments presented here, but much food for thought is offered.
Perhaps the highlight of the book is the concluding chapter by John Feinberg. Feinberg has written extensively on the problem of evil and suffering. His two masters' theses, and his doctoral dissertation, were all on these topics. But it was personal tragedy in his own life that really made this become real to him. His wife - and potentially his children - carries a degenerative, fatal disease, which he has had to work through and cope with for many years now.
Such personal encounters with suffering in many ways supplement but go beyond the academic ruminations about the topic. Indeed, Feinberg sees that there is the theological and philosophical approach to suffering which is necessary, but there is also a pastoral approach.
Often when people are in the midst of suffering it is the pastoral approach which is most needed. Being there to comfort and express love may often be more important than just providing theological answers to all the `why' questions.
In this very down-to-earth chapter Feinberg tells us what is not helpful as we seek to comfort those in pain, and what is helpful. But he does not leave out rational argumentation altogether. For example, he responds to the charge that God may appear to be unjust in allowing some to suffer more than others:
"Grace is unmerited favor. That means you get something good that you don't deserve. But if I don't merit it at all, it can't be unjust that my neighbor gets more grace than I do. In fact, God isn't obligated to treat us with any kind of grace. That's why it is grace and not justice."
All in all this is a helpful one-volume look at the biblical discussion of suffering and evil. Those already well-read on this topic will not find much new or different material here. But it is a nice arrangement of the main concerns as addressed by Scripture. For those wanting a good volume which covers most of the bases, this is a good place to begin.
The contributing writers write out of their theological knowledge, their philosophical knowledge, and their experience of heartache and suffering. They have done their job well.
Honestly, I did not anticipate the book being very good, though I had looked forward to reading and reviewing it. Why? It seemed dry at the first. Oh, yeah? Well, what do you expect from theology? I expect something to hold my interest. That it did. The apparent dryness did not last long. I was quickly involved in reading the Biblical and theological arguments addressing God's goodness, sovereign wisdom, and how suffering is related to them. I was not disappointed. The writers hold that God is indeed sovereign, and that nothing is out of His control. I especially liked how the writers took the issue of suffering and evil and essentially walked us through the Biblical data to find a Biblical theology of suffering and God's goodness. Both the Old and New Testaments speak to this subject. In the end, we are given the assurance that all will be well and suffering shall cease. It's the old, old story, but it surely is sweet to the suffering soul.
John Frame speaks both Biblically and philosophically concerning the subject. He did his job very well, too. While I may not agree with his approach and arguments relating to some of the issue, I was gratified to find that he and I agree that God has a purpose in ordaining evil/suffering. God intends the greater good of His eternal exaltation through suffering. I believe this is what makes the Christians' worldview more coherent than others: no other worldview can present suffering in quite the light that Christianity does.
We are given a chapter relating to oppression, and I must say that it is something that we must face today. Oppression is real. The Scriptures address it. It is in many cases because of failure on the part of the church that oppression has such a strong hold in the world today. Thankfully, we have Biblical instructions about addressing it. May God help us to do so.
The final two chapters were very powerful in their context. I was beginning to feat that the book would fail to bring theology to its logical conclusion: practice. I was not disappointed. There was much practical good in these two chapters. One writer presents poetry that helped him during his battle with cancer. The other tells us of his struggle with suffering and the sovereign goodness of God. It is good to know that religious leaders have honest doubts, struggles, and issues with anger. Suffering simply is not easy. This is candidly shared with the reader. In the end, we learn that we can see God's wisdom and goodness if we but look for it. At the same time, however, we learn that we must be careful in how we seek to comfort those who are suffering. The lines that speak to us about that are worth the price of the book.
This book is quality through and through. It is a highly recommended read and belongs in the library of pastors as well as theologians. In fact, anyone who seeks to minister to troubled people should read this book. I cannot recommend it enough.