Book Write-Up: Why God Allows Us to Suffer

Kevin Tewes.  Answering Christianity’s Most Difficult Question—-Why God Allows Us to Suffer: The Definitive Solution to the Problem of Pain and the Problem of Evil.  Chapel Hill: Triune Publishing Group, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

The “About the Author” section of this book states that Kevin Tewes is An “accomplished trial lawyer and former US Army officer,” who “deployed to Iraq in late 2006, just as a bloody sectarian conflict was enveloping the country.”  After Tewes observed numerous victims flooding into a military hospital, he felt challenged to address the problem of evil: the question of why an omnipotent, benevolent God allows suffering.

Tewes’ answer is that God chooses to allow us to impact and be impacted by others and thereby limits God’s intervention in the world.  Why does God want us to impact and to be impacted by others?  Tewes’ answer is that God wants us to give and receive love.  For Tewes, apparently, God wants us to impact and to be impacted by others positively, so God allows us to impact each other freely, even when that impact is negative.

This sounds somewhat like the Free Will Defense, the idea that God chooses not to prevent evil deeds because God respects human free will.  But Tewes strongly distances himself from the Free Will Defense.  For Tewes, apologists who appeal to free will act as if free will is of paramount importance, or a worthy end in itself.  Tewes, by contrast, emphasizes something else as more important: love.  Tewes seems to argue that, in this fallen world, an environment in which people freely impact and are impacted by others can be conducive to love.  Tewes appears to maintain that God, by intervening, would compromise that environment and God’s goal, and so God limits God’s intervention.

Tewes addresses the question of why God permits humans to do evil acts, but does Tewes address the problem of natural evil: hurricanes, or earthquakes?  Essentially, Tewes blames the Fall for natural evil.

One positive of the book is that, early on, it critiques popular and conventional solutions to the problem of evil, while interacting with such thinkers as atheists Bart Ehrman and John Loftus, liberal Christian philosopher John Hick, Simone Weil, and others.  Tewes rightly questions whether conventional solutions to the problem of evil are adequate in the face of how horrible evil can be.  Tewes questions the argument that God permits evil so that we can build our character or so disadvantaged people can be guinea pigs for other people’s moral development, as well as the Free Will Defense.  Tewes finds these solutions insufficient in light of the numerous people who were slaughtered in Iraq, or people who die soon after they are born.

Another positive to the book is that it presents God limiting Godself because God has higher ends in mind.  God is omnipotent, but God makes choices about when and how to use God’s power, in light of the reality that is in front of God, and God’s loving purposes.  Tewes may not go so far as to suggest that God wrestles with the options in front of God, but he does present something like that, and this makes God someone with whom one can identify.

The third positive is that Tewes continually reminds the reader of God’s love and grace.  For Tewes, we know that God loves us because God did not execute Adam and Eve right after their sin.  God still had a purpose for humanity.  A lot of Christians depict God as totally just: God has to punish each and every sin, otherwise there is moral anarchy, so God sent Jesus to be punished in our place, and those who believe are declared innocent.  Whether Tewes embraces that idea is unclear.  Tewes states that God’s punishment of sin after the Fall is an example of God’s justice, yet he states that God did not pour out God’s justice totally on Adam and Eve, since God allowed humanity to continue.  Does Tewes believe that God can be just, without being absolute in justice?  Does Jesus’ death on the cross mitigate God’s justice, on some level?  Tewes should have interacted with such questions.

On that note, a negative to the book is that so many questions are left unanswered.  Tewes argues that God chooses to limit God’s intervention, and yet the Bible often presents God intervening in the world.  How does Tewes account for that?  Is Tewes’ solution to the problem of evil how God generally works, and yet Tewes acknowledges that God can make exceptions to that?  How does God decide when to intervene?  Does God do anything other than letting nature take its course in God’s attempt to encourage people to love?  If so, what?  Tewes does not say.  The book would have been better had he said!

Tewes says that God may choose not to make God’s existence obvious to humanity because that can provide an opportunity for us to have faith.  But is that an adequate solution to this apparent problem?  God made Godself obvious to many people in the Bible, and that did not take away their opportunities to have faith.  They may have been surer than we are about God’s existence, but they still had to decide whether or not to trust God.  Tewes’ proposal here may have some merit, but it does not solve the problem entirely.

Tewes seems to argue that God made the world so God would have someone to love.  (This is my understanding of his argument, and I am open to correction.)  Many Christians would respond that God already had someone to love, even before creating humanity: the persons of the Trinity loved each other.  Tewes is aware of this argument, for, in a footnote, he tells the reader to forget for a moment the Trinity.  Forget the Trinity?  Tewes himself appears to believe in the Trinity, but he should have wrestled with how or whether the Trinity poses a possible challenge to his argument, rather than telling readers to forget that challenge.

There is finally the question of whether Tewes’ scenario is adequate in the face of how horrible evil is.  Tewes did well to critique other scenarios, but is his own scenario adequate?  Could God accomplish God’s goal without all of the horrible suffering in the world?  Is the suffering in this world overkill, in terms of God’s agenda?  Could God accomplish the same goals with less suffering—-not no suffering, but less suffering?  Even after reading this book, this question remains.

And could one make the case that the current state of the world actually discourages love, rather than enhancing it?  Life can bruise people and make them less willing to trust and to reach out to others.  Life probably encourages and discourages love, but Tewes’ book is rather one-sided, on this.

The book is well-written in terms of its prose.  In terms of its organization, it could be rather scattered, at times, and Tewes went on some unnecessary tangents (i.e., Descartes starts with a presupposition in his “I think therefore I am” argument).

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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