When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently About God, Suffering, And Evil, by John S. Feinberg
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.]
As someone who for personal reasons has long had an abiding interest in the “problem of suffering” that theologians and philosophers argue over , I found this book to be refreshing, even if it is written by a self-professed Calvinist . All joking aside, this is an example of a book that is written about the problem of pain from an unassailable perspective, namely the point of view of someone who has gone through it. In that, it is far closer to C.S. Lewis’ “A Grief Observed” than to his more detached “The Problem Of Pain,” although it is written by a scholar who manages to smooth out much of the rawness from the account while still providing enough emotional resonance to make it unmistakably clear that the author does not speak from the heights of intellectual inquiry into the question of pain, about which the author refers to another book of his, but rather to the personal problem of how it is felt and how others help or harm those who are in suffering, and as there is a lot of suffering in this fallen world, this is an excellent and thoughtful short book about the subject that is full of candor.
The contents of the book are clearly and thoughtfully organized, and there are a lot of surprising touches that the book offers that make it even better. After a preface where the author introduces his approach to the problem of suffering, the author discusses a prelude to a problem, pointing at his own search for a healthy wife and partner in his ministry work, before discussing the dismal way life feels when one is in the midst of a problem—where the author speaks of his wife’s discovery of a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease, one of the most feared genetic disorders because of its incurable nature and the fact that it is a single-dominant gene disorder. The author discusses the helpfulness and lack of helpfulness of friends, with thoughtful comparison to the notorious friends of Job, and spends several chapters discussing how he wrestled with questions about the goodness of God, the way that God hides the future from us, the relationship between grace and justice with the suffering of the (relatively) righteous, as well as the question as to whether he had been deceived by God by marrying a supposedly healthy woman whose genes carried a ticking time bomb within them. The book closes with discussions of how one lives with dying, deals with questions of purpose and divine providence, and also contains a short but moving afterward by the author’s wife from an earlier edition of the book when she was still able to write, along with an appendix that discusses ten possible uses of affliction that may apply in particular cases.
This book, like many books from Kregel Press , fills a very valuable niche within Christian publishing in providing a short (about 150 pages including its appendix), moving, and thoughtful book about a problem that many people deal with. The author examines why clichés often fail to work, why some verses (like Romans 8:28) often do not comfort those who are in anguish and who doubt God’s love for them, and points out that ultimately much of the meaning of a trial is only clear at the end, not in the messy middle of the problem. The author steadfastly and resolutely refuses to consider trials a good thing, pointing out how the Bible never refers to trials as good in themselves, even if what comes from them is good. Even though the book is a personal discussion of the problem of suffering, it manages to provide an implicit case for the goodness of God by refusing to concede that God views suffering as a good thing in itself, while also pointing out that the goodness of God does not always appear to be good by those who are in the midst of suffering, including even those of us who, intellectually at least, know better. By providing a compassionate but biblically sound view of the problem of pain from an emotional and relational perspective, this book deserves to be read, and will hopefully provide a great deal of comfort and encouragement to those who suffer who have an intellectual understanding of the problem of pain and who have felt the disconnect between what the mind knows and how the heart feels in the midst of great and sore trials.
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