Book Write-Up: Answering the Toughest Questions about Suffering and Evil

Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, with Christopher Greer.  Answering the Toughest Questions about Suffering and Evil.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

In this book, Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz address the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.

The book has its assets:

—–The back cover of the book says that the authors “leave enough space—-and grace—-for you to keep wrestling, asking, and seeking truth.”  Such an approach is preferable to Christian books that act as if they have all the answers and have closed the book on the subject.

—-The book has stories about evil and how the authors (and the sufferers) believe that God has been at work in the midst of it.

—-The opening chapter, “If God Created Everything, Did He Create Evil?”, is compelling in that it does not just settle for standard Christian answers but tries to go deeper.  It also delves into Christian views that evil is a deficiency or a corruption of the good.

—-The book vividly demonstrates how acts and thoughts that seem only minutely evil can have profound, corrupting consequences.

—-The chapters open with anecdotes, often personal anecdotes, that draw in the reader and set the stage for the discussion.

—-While the humor was a little overrated, the humor in the biographies about the authors was actually quite funny.

—-The book’s contrast between God being our strength in our weakness (the Pauline view) and us becoming stronger as a result of our suffering and failures is poignant.

—-The book’s point that people who escape certain forms of suffering should thank God that they have been recipients of divine grace (not salvific, but temporal) may not answer a lot of questions, but it may be a useful way to approach a question: should people thank God for their fortune in a particular case, when others suffer misfortune?

Here are some critiques:

—-The book’s justification of divinely-sanctioned violence in the Bible is weak.  The chapter opens with a story about a lawyer who challenged one of the authors about the slaughter of innocents in the Bible (i.e., Canaanite children).  The book did not really address that issue, though.

—-If the authors are correct that suffering performs an important role in this world  (i.e., it manifests God’s respect for free will, it allows people to build character), why did God not create the world with suffering, and why will God eliminate suffering in the eschaton?  What is lacking in this book is a panoramic look at the question of suffering.

—-The authors blame a lot of suffering on the Fall.  They should have addressed evolutionary history, which some believe casts question on whether there even was a historical Fall.

—-In response to the question of why bad things happen to good people, the authors echo the common Christian response that there are no good people.  Where exactly are they going with that?  Are they implying that God punishes everyone for human flaws or sins?

—-The book offered helpful advice about what not to say to people who are suffering, but it was rather short on advice about things to say and do for sufferers.  The book also should have been more specific and practical about how to help people in the world.

—-The book had stories about people who died when they were young and did not get to fulfill their vocation.  They did well to tell those stories, but such stories, in my opinion, amplify the theological problem of suffering.  What purpose does it serve for so many people to die when they are young?

—-The book was honest and had some good insights, but, overall, it rehashes a lot of the typical Christian answers to the problem of evil.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.


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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