Randy Alcorn. If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2009. 528 pp. $24.99.
There is perhaps nothing more universal to human experience than suffering, and perhaps nothing more critical than the perspective we bring to it. For many unbelievers, the problem of evil is the single greatest obstacle to faith; and for many believers, it’s the single greatest obstacle in faith. A robust theology of suffering is crucial because we will all experience devastating trials at one point or another; and yet, many professing Christians do not have a biblical perspective on suffering that enables them to stand firm in their faith in the midst of it (and some fall away). We have to prepare in the good times to stand in the bad times, because in the midst of unspeakable tragedy and loss, we likely will not have the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to read and think and pray the way that we can in the “normal” times.”
Bestselling author Randy Alcorn has written a phenomenal book on the subject of faith in the midst of suffering and evil. Recognizing that the problem of evil is multifaceted (not just theoretical, philosophical, and theological but also deeply personal), Alcorn seeks to address the issue from all perspectives. Interspersed throughout the book you find personal stories of both those who have fallen away from faith as well as those whose faith have been strengthened and purified in the flames of trial; you also find logical arguments for the simultaneous existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God and the existence of evil (as well as reasons why an unbeliever’s solution to the problem does not work); and you find ample Scripture quotations that together illustrate a biblical view of evil and suffering rooted in the majesty and glory of God and the great drama of Christ’s redemptive work on the Cross.
The problem of evil and suffering is not one for which there is a neat, easy solution; this book provides many helpful perspectives that will bolster your faith and help you persevere in trial; but there is a sense in which we have to be okay with not understanding; in the way that parents don’t fully explain things to children until they are grown up because they lack the capability to fully comprehend, there are things we will not fully understand until the day we see the Lord face to face. Alcorn frames it in this way as he invites readers into this book
I’ve read books by atheists and Holocaust survivors, and have interviewed dozens of men and women who have endured extreme evil and suffering. The more I’ve done so, the ore I’ve asked God to give me wisdom – and I’ve discovered that wisdom begins with the humility to say there’s a great deal I don’t understand. If I thought I had no helpful perspectives on the problem, it would be pointless for me to write this book. If I imagined I had all the answers neatly lined up, it would be pointless for you to read it (22).
This book is simultaneously pastoral and theological, simultaneously heart-oriented and mind-oriented. Alcorn helps us to see that rather than theodicy being a weakness (the so-called “Achilles’ Heel”) of Christianity, the Christian worldview is actually the only one that deals with the problem adequately. Jesus Christ is the only satisfying answer to the problem of evil and suffering. Through stories, pastoral counsel, apologetic insight, as well as Scripture and theological wisdom Alcorn provides a comprehensive treatment of this question that has pervaded across the lands and ages. It’s readable and engaging, and a book that every Christian needs to read in order to prepare for the suffering that will inevitably come (if it hasn’t already).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.