In If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, Randy Alcorn (author of Heaven, which has sold nearly half-a-million copies) addresses the ancient question, “Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering?” The question is not only ancient but current as well. The “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.
Of course, most of us face this penetrating question not simply from an academic perspective but from a profoundly personal viewpoint. Because of this, Alcorn wisely blends deep theological insight, relevant apologetic wisdom, and compelling narratives from his conversations with men and women whose lives have been torn apart by suffering, and yet whose faith burns brighter than ever. Explaining his method, Alcorn says, “Though I write personally, from the heart, and tell stories of great courage and perspective, I must also present a case from Scripture and appeal to logic” (3).
Readers of Heaven and of Alcorn’s blogs and resources at Eternal Perspectives Ministries will not be surprised to learn that Alcorn hinges his answer to the question of evil and suffering on the big picture of who God is and what he is doing in the world—now and forever. Those familiar with Alcorn also will not be surprised by the copious quoting, discussing, explaining, and applying of Scripture.
If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil
Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.
In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God–Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?
In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.
Some readers, especially those in the throes of suffering, may be taken aback initially by the length of the book. It is quite the tome at more than 500 pages. Alcorn addresses this in the introduction by empathizing with his readers and their need for comfort from a spiritual friend, pastor, or counselor, and by his exhortation:
But in the process don’t seek comfort by ignoring truth. When you try to soothe your feelings without bothering to think deeply about ideas, you are asking to be manipulated. Quick-fix feelings won’t sustain you over the long haul. On the other hand, deeply rooted beliefs-specifically a worldview grounded in Scripture-will allow you to persevere and hold on to a faith built on the solid rock of God’s truth (3).
For some in the midst of suffering, the length and depth of the book may still be a little much. They may want to read Alcorn’s The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering (Multnomah) which is in a gift-book format and weighs in at an easy-to-digest 120 pages. Additionally, Alcorn offers an intense, interactive study guide for If God Is Good (less than 200 pages, also by Multnomah).
At heart, Alcorn is a theologian-a practical theologian of pastoral theology—in the pattern of the great Puritan soul physicians. What we find in If God Is Good is nothing less than a biblical theology of suffering—a biblical sufferology. In section one, Alcorn deals with the issue first from a philosophical perspective—why is the problem of evil and suffering so important? What are some of the possible responses to the problem?
In section two, he addresses the problem theologically, starting with creation and fall-evil’s entrance into God’s perfect universe. Sections three and four return to a more philosophical and apologetic mode as Alcorn probes how non-theists attempt to explain the problem of evil—and why their explanations fall flat. By now at nearly 200 pages, you might think that Alcorn is too deep—perhaps too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Not so. Throughout these “deep” sections and their corresponding chapters, Alcorn weaves personal stories, uses illustrations from classic literature and current cinema, and writes in an accessible and inviting style. Heavy stuff, yes. But worth the meaty diet.
The bulk of the book then runs from sections five through ten, some 250 pages. Alcorn now moves from creation and fall to redemption as he traces a Christ-focused, gospel-centered theology of evil and suffering and the redemptive purposes of God. If you had only one section to read, I would recommend section five: Evil and Suffering in the Great Drama of Christ’s Redemptive Work. Alcorn sets the problem of evil in the context of the grand narrative of God’s eternal purpose. He asks the question I’ve asked several nonbelievers, “If you were the author, how would you have written the story?” Alcorn next offers the only answer that truly matters: Jesus. As Alcorn puts it, “Jesus: The only answer bigger than the questions.” In the spirit of Martin Luther, Alcorn assures us that only the cross of Christ and only the Christ of the cross can attest to a good God in a world gone bad.
Alcorn’s eleventh and final section gets more personal, addressing how to live meaningfully in suffering. At first glance, one might think these less-than-50 pages hardly seem enough. We might think, “Less than 10 percent of a book on suffering given over to ‘practical’ matters?!” That depends on how we define practical, doesn’t it? In Alcorn’s hands, with the many personal vignettes and consistent application of truth to life, all 500-plus pages are “practical.” This final section is simply more overtly so.
God’s Good All the Time
When life is bad, Satan whispers, “God is in control of everything. Life is bad. God must be bad, too.” Alcorn, in all candor and honesty, whispers back, “Yes, life is bad, but God is good. He’s good all the time—eternally so.” It is only with an eternal, big-picture perspective that we can ever manage to defeat the insidious whispers of Satan. Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good offers a first-rate, deeply theological, and profoundly practical eternal perspective on the character and plan of God in Christ.