Suffering is hard for any of us to deal with. Especially when we throw in a theology that says God plans for that suffering. Randy Alcorn attempts in this work to pull the jagged edges of his wounds together and suture the uncertainty of God’s choices. Theological differences aside, I still found this view of suffering and God’s involvement in my suffering to be hard to swallow.
When I am given any kind of religious text I have to take a lot of “lens” out of my mental workout bag to look through. I think it is hard for any seminarian to not have a whole range of perspectives to see these texts through because we were taught to look at texts in this way because we had a responsibility to our prospective congregation to be that prepared. I took this review with the same feeling of responsibility and had to think about how I was going to communicate such a heavy perspective to my audience and whether ultimately this text is worth exposing young ones too.
Alcorn works very hard to help the reader understand that his perspective is a unique one and that this work was more to help him define that perspective than to instruct others to follow that same path. Suffering and pain forever change us and our view of the world around us; sadly that is often our best teacher in the area of pain. This view of the necessity of experience to survive tragedy is a strongly held belief amongst a lot of people in society and I can’t say that I disagree. Where I had a hard time in this text was where suffering as a period of life immediately became the presence of evil and a cosmic battle against that evil. This is a big gap that was forged in this text with little set up and left me very confused. When evil is defined as, “a fundamental departure from goodness,” that is certainly easy to follow as a protestant in America. (Alcorn, 2010) Where it got really hairy for me was when that definition transformed into, “Short term suffering serves as a warning and a foretaste of eternal suffering. Without a taste of Hell, we would not see its horrors nor feel much motivation to do everything possible to avoid it.”(Alcorn) I find this leap from a solid definition of evil to a theology of fear to be way too large for me to cross with Alcorn. Do I believe that this viewpoint is not widely held by a lot of people? Of course not; I know there are many that live their faith out in such a way to avoid Hell and increase their place in Heaven. I am not condemning either way, I am merely a man stuck in the middle looking at this path laid out by Alcorn and seeing it to be not very appealing compared to the way I have grown through my own faith.
I recommend The Goodness of God to those that are willing to ford these issues of suffering and introspection; but, to the average man of faith out there I think this is a tad too heavy to go alone. Accountability groups of book studies would have a wonderfully full experience with this work with an experienced facilitator. This work is not one to lead your family through as a topic of growth. Nor would it be developmentally appropriate for any children below college age to try and grapple these topics. With these caveats established, I believe with Alcorn that this work was more of a cathartic exercise than a system of theology and that the average person of faith should probably work through their basic values and beliefs of their faith before they tackle such a heady and sticky subject as pain and suffering.
The opinions expressed are those of the author, who received no compensation other than the complimentary copy of the title reviewed.
Chris Weber is a school liaison. He and his wife make their home in Azle, TX.