One of the most difficult questions that people wrestle with in life is, “Can there really be a good God, in control of all things, when evil and suffering seem to be so rampant in our world?” The existence of suffering and evil has caused many people to deny God’s existence; or continuing to believe in, but hate him. Some, such as well know UNC at Chapel Hill professor, Bart Ehrman, have turned from professing Christianity to agnosticism, unable to reconcile the existence of a good God with suffering in the world (Alcorn details Ehrman’s story in Section 3). Others, such as atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, deny the existence of God altogether; convinced that belief in God only poisons cultures and leads to suffering and acts of evil.
It’s a perennial issue, reconciling the existence of a good God and a world full of suffering and evil, but not one without satisfying, weighty, and honest answers. Randy Alcorn, bestselling author of Heaven, has compiled a comprehensive study in his 2009 release, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.
Alcorn does not hold anything back in volume on suffering. Beginning by addressing the problems of suffering and evil in the world, he moves forward to detail their origins and effects on human beings and the created order. Writing from a seemingly Reformed perspective, I appreciate Alcorn’s honesty about the deeply sinful and rebellious nature of human beings, but meeting them with the riches of God’s grace and mercy in the gospel.
Alcorn then moves through the issues in the following sections:
- Problems for Non-Theists: Moral Standards, Goodness, and Extreme Evil
- Proposed Solutions to the Problem of Evil and Suffering: Limiting God’s Attributes
- Evil and Suffering in the Great Drama of Christ’s Redemptive Work
- Divine Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice: Accounting for Evil and Suffering
- The Two Eternal Solutions to the Problem the Evil: Heaven and Hell
- God’s Allowance and Restraint of Evil and Suffering
- Evil and Suffering Used for God’s Glory
- What Does God Allow Suffering?
- Living Meaningfully in Suffering
Positively, Alcorn’s book is rich in approaching suffering and evil in light of the true, biblical gospel. He addresses distortions of the gospel (i.e., Health & Wealth, Trust In Jesus and Never Suffer Again…), and clarifies the true gospel well as he discusses suffering in the lives of God’s people with pastoral clarity, compassion, and honesty. Alcorn’s book is one of the best volumes on suffering/evil I have seen to date in it’s comprehensive approach to the most common issues and questions regarding faith, suffering, and evil.
Negatively, If God is Good is nearly 500 pages in length. For some, the size may, at first, be intimidating. I would still urge those searching for answers to this issue to patiently work through Alcorn’s book, as it does provide very helpful answers to this multifaceted issue.
I wholeheartedly recommend If God is Good as either a volume of reference or one to be read from cover to cover! It’s straightforward, sincere, gospel-centered, God-glorifying, and all-together helpful in its explanation of a very serious issue, possibly “the single greatest dilemma of human existence.”
*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.