Randy Alcorn. If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009, 2014). 528 pp. $11.67
There are many ideological, philosophical, epistemological, and practical reasons people in the West reject theism in general and Christianity in particular. But among the mountain of reasons given in rejection of Christianity, the realities of evil and suffering still reign supreme as the final nails in Christianity’s coffin. Though millennials have in some ways moved past this so-called problem into total agnostic disregard, many non-Christians struggle to accept the Christian God, or any God, because of the presence of evil and suffering.
Many books have been written on this topic, and admittedly in If God is Good author Randy Alcorn doesn’t provide anything new. Alcorn is a trusted evangelical writer who is probably best known for his best-seller Heaven. Much like Heaven, If God is Good is a lengthy exposition of nearly every conceivable issue relating to God, suffering, and evil. The book is written for both skeptics and Christians struggling with doubt that evil and suffering can produce. The existence of a book of such apologetic nature shows that while evil and suffering definitely lead some to disbelieve in God, it leads others into the sovereign, good, and loving arms of God.
If God is Good is a thorough defense of God’s existence in the midst of evil and suffering. It examines the reasonableness of faith in a world filled with injustice and senseless tragedy. When an author attempts to address this topic, I am always cautious, because on the path of defending faith in the face of suffering and evil are many snares that can undermine the work. It is easy for authors to be filled with pride, waging a polemical war against atheists agnostics, and other doubters. It is also easy to lack compassion, belittling the legitimacy of the doubts and objections.
Alcorn avoids both of these traps with tactful skill, particularly recognizing his limitations. He writes, “If I thought I had no helpful perspectives on the problem, it would be pointless for me to write this book. If I imagined I had all the answers neatly lined up, it would be pointless for you to read it.” Alcorn relies on personal experience, encounters, as well as genuine humility to provide a compassionate and compelling voice to a sensitive topic.
Alcorn makes no qualms about the reality of the problem of evil and suffering. He accurately explains what makes evil and suffering such a problem for so many making healthy use of atheistic literature. What we learn in the process is that sound theology is necessary to not only respond to the problem of evil and suffering, but to cope with evil and suffering. Alcorn’s arguments find roots in the Reformation as he unfolds the doctrines of human depravity, spiritual inability, compatibalistic free will, omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, final judgment, justification, sanctification, and more. Alcorn takes time to address specific concerns, like seemingly pointless suffering. He also spends a chapter exposing the danger of the prosperity “gospel” and how it is detrimental to Christians facing evil and suffering.
One thing that sets this book apart from others I have read on the topic is its style. The book is filled with bolded headings followed by explanations. The book is over 500 pages long, but the style makes it manageable. The book reads quickly, but also encourages skipping around. Readers may find that they are unable to read every page, which would be a shame.
Probably the most appealing aspect of If God is Good is the superb story-telling ability of Alcorn. He weaves stories of God’s grace in the midst of suffering as he exposes theological truth. His arguments are laced with real life examples and stories of gospel grace, much from his own life and struggles with pain and suffering. If God is Good, then, is not just dry apologetics in defense of God’s existence in a world filled with evil and suffering. It is a warm, compassionate, and compelling journey through life’s most difficult experiences. Alcorn doesn’t throw down heavy theology to win arguments. He takes readers into the depths of theology in order to provide genuine comfort and peace. All readers regardless of whether they agree with Alcorn must admit the genuineness of his tone.
The sound theological teaching and heartfelt stories provide compelling evidence to support this profound claim: “This is one of the great paradoxes of suffering. Those who don’t suffer much think suffering should keep people from God, while many who suffer a great deal turn to God, not from him.”
Three kinds of people will benefit tremendously from this book. (1) Skeptics will find Alcorn compelling, open, and honest. If the philosophical problem of evil is a roadblock to faith, consider Alcorn’s biblical exposition and answers. (2) Christians who are suffering will find great meaning, purpose, comfort, and peace in these pages. This book will help the suffering Christian cope with their suffering. (3) Christians who are not suffering. In the words of Alcorn, “We shouldn’t wait until suffering comes to start learning about how to face it any more than we should wait to fall into the water to start learning how to scuba dive.” When suffering hits, having read this book will not solve all your doubts or problems, but it will provide a cushion for your soul.
If God is Good is a thorough, yet manageable book that adequately addresses a difficult and controversial topic in a compassionate and compelling way. While its content will mirror other similar works in the Reformed tradition, Alcorn’s tone and experiences make it unique. I found the book helpful, enjoyable, and biblically faithful.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.