Gerald W. Peterman and Andrew J. Schmutzer. Between Pain & Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Gerald W. Peterman and Andrew J. Schmutzer teach Bible at the Moody Bible Institute. They contribute chapters to this book, Between Pain & Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering. Some of the book’s chapters are by Peterman, some are by Schmutzer, and the final chapter is by both.
This book is rather thin in terms of discussing why God allows suffering. The book blames the Fall, while also positing that God usually chooses not to intervene when God’s image-bearers can do so.
The book is more substantive in discussing how Christians should view and respond to suffering, both their own and the suffering of others. It presents God and Jesus as beings who have suffered, against ancient Christian views that attempted to distance God from emotion. It is critical of Christians who maintain that Christians should never be sad because they have hope. It advocates lament. It talks about sexual abuse and mental illness. It contends that Christians should be sensitive to where people are when they admonish, encourage, or help, a la I Thessalonians 5:14.
The book has its share of positives. It is thoughtful and sophisticated, yet accessible to lay-readers. It does not use big words, but its expression is still deep and weighty. It tries to understand where people are coming from: why people may choose to leave the Christian faith in response to suffering, for example.
The book offered thought-provoking insights, some of which were new to me. For instance, one of the essays notes that people forgiving others is not exactly a major theme or command in the Old Testament, whereas it is in the New, and it says that this is because of God’s forgiveness of people through Christ. There are problems with this view. Leviticus 19:18 forbids revenge or carrying a grudge. Even before Christ came to earth, Ben Sira 28:2-7 exhorted people to forgive and even stated that God would not forgive those who withhold forgiveness from others; the New Testament commands on forgiveness may be continuing prior Jewish tradition, rather than just being based on atonement through Christ. The synoptic Gospels, which talk frequently about forgiveness, do not really stress atonement through Christ. Still, the essay in the book may be on to something. Revenge did occur in the Old Testament, and God did not always express explicit disapproval of that; also, there are not too many explicit commands in the Old Testament to forgive and reconcile with others.
(UPDATE: This is not to suggest that the book argues that God permitted revenge in the Old Testament, for it does not argue this. It is my impression, though, that the Old Testament at times allows for revenge. That could be consistent with this book’s argument that the Old Testament did not stress interpersonal forgiveness on the same level that the New Testament did, even though this book’s authors would disagree with this application of the argument.)
Another essay in the book contrasted Old Testament anthropology with New Testament anthropology. According to this essay, New Testament anthropology believed that humans consisted of body and soul, whereas Old Testament anthropology lacked that dualistic division. The essay chalks that difference up to progressive revelation. That discussion perhaps could have been developed some more, but the book’s notation of biblical diversity is one of its assets.
An edifying insight in the book concerned the family dysfunction in the Book of Genesis. One of the book’s authors said that, even though there was dysfunction, it was not the end of the world. God was still at work, bringing forth good out of bad. On the issue of forgiveness, there were times when what the book said may be uncomfortable for people struggling to forgive; in other cases, however, it offered a realistic view of forgiveness, one that empathizes with victims and upholds justice.
In terms of negatives, the book at first was like a laundry-list, as it looked at what the Bible said about the various kinds of suffering. It listed a lot of things but did not really integrate them into a larger picture. The book was also rather short in terms of solutions: for instance, it is critical of happy-clappy worship where people come and pretend to be happy, even if they are not, but it does not talk much about how worship can be structured to allow for lament.
Notwithstanding any shortcomings, the book is still an edifying read.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.