Book Review: Answering the Toughest Questions About Suffering and Evil
Answering the Toughest Questions About Suffering and Evil, the second in a series, is a book of basic Christian answers to the question of evil and suffering. With short sections and thoughtful review questions for critical thinking, this book can be used in a small group setting. Although authors Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz talk about weighty issues, this is not a heavy-topic book, making it great for those who want an introductory glimpse into the questions and answers to the problem of evil.
The beginning of the book focuses on Christian "approaches rather than answers" -- as well as the atheist arguments against God's existence -- concerning the problem of evil.
The book then discusses an age-old question poised by the prophet Habakkuk: "How long must I call for help? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?" And God’s answer: “The just shall live by faith.”
But the book doesn't leave the answer on faith alone; it goes on to discuss the worst evil the world has ever seen: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. "This is the answer that changed the world from a place where evil wins to a place where evil is defeated.” This point is reiterated throughout the book.
Moral obligation is the topic tackled next. "'If there is no God, where do such strong moral instincts and feelings come from?' asks. Keller. '... The problem of senseless suffering does not go away if you abandon belief in God....'" Some of the statements were repeated in different ways with different quotes throughout the book. But this is a good thing, as it recaps the main points so that the reader understands and remembers them. I liked how the authors brought up the point that even though we may know that God is not the originator of evil (from the arguments presented), we often blame God for it anyway; but that this is because our knowing is with our minds, while humans respond to the issue of evil and suffering from the feelings or the heart. This is one reason why we are to love the Lord "with all our hearts" -- our moral obligations -- as well as our minds.
Bickel and Jantz also talk about God's character -- His justice, righteousness, and holiness -- as it relates to suffering in the Old Testament, and the atheist's view that this makes God the perpetrator of evil. While I agree with the authors' conclusion that the context of the story reveals the reason for God's righteous wrath, it is an introductory book on the topic, and I didn't think the chapter gave enough sound evidence to convince a skeptic against the view that God is the cause of such atrocities. I recommend reading Dr. Paul Copan’s book, "Is God a Moral Monster?" for a more in-depth look at this topic.
After each section there are probing "Questions For Reflection and Discussion," which are great to discuss with your family, group, or church. Here is an example from the first chapter:
Other topics addressed include such questions as, "Why Do the innocent suffer? Does God care? Is He distant? Why doesn't He do something?" Many of these answers are taken directly from Scripture or from the authors' personal experiences, providing a good mix of apologetics and Scripture to cover the "problem of evil." One of the points brought out by the authors that was especially helpful is that when we struggle with "the problem of suffering and evil.... it is fundamentally an emotional issue." That may seem harsh to those going through tragic events, but those of us who have, know that it is true. They quote John Feinberg's book When There Are No Easy Answers: "'My problem,’ writes Feinberg, 'was about how in the midst of affliction I could find comfort, and how I could find it in myself to live with a God who wasn't stopping the suffering.'" For Feinberg, one of his epiphanies is best learned by us all: "'For those wrestling with some affliction, as you are able, seek ways to help others,' he says. 'There is therapeutic value in getting your eyes off your problems.'"
Lastly, the issue of sin being the root of the problem is discussed at great length in the book from various angles. Adam's rebellion led to sin as we know it today. Because we are all sinners, if God were to eliminate sin, He would have to eliminate us as sinners. This is the crux of the matter, and the reason we need a Savior Who died for our sins, and Who will one day "wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). To end on a note mentioned previously, "This is the answer that changed the world from a place where evil wins to a place where evil is defeated."
Answering the Toughest Questions About Suffering and Evil is a basic primer on the problem of evil, covering various bases. It is a very easy read, providing a good starting point for home or church group studies or as a stand-alone homeschool book on the topic. I recommend this to beginner apologists and laypeople interested in understanding the Problem of Evil. It will make for good discussions and -- since it quotes some notable apologists and authors like Sean McDowell, Frank Turek, and C.S. Lewis -- will provide fodder for more in-depth material on the topic for those wishing to go deeper in their studies. You can view the first chapter by clicking here.
This book was provided to me free by Baker Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are 100% mine, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors or publisher.
For recommendations on the Problem of evil, see the following resources:
If God, Why Evil? (DCF blog post remembering 9/11, featuring many resources from great Christian apologists)
If GodWhy Evil? (Norman Geisler's book)
Why DoBad Things Happen to Good people? (blog post)
Why Does God Allow Evil?: Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions (Clay Jones' new book)