Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book review: If I Were God, I'd End all the Pain

Why would a loving God allow so much suffering? All of us have wrestled with this question at some point. Almost every day as a pastor, I encounter people who are dealing with serious trials - people who may be asking this very question.

In the short book, If I Were God, I'd End All the Pain, John Dickson is not afraid to ask the question "Why?" In fact, he believes it's a healthy question that God Himself invites. The author shows that while there is still much mystery woven into our suffering, we can also be confident that Christianity provides the very best explanation for evil and suffering.

After showing why suffering does not disprove God philosophically (ch. 1), the author explains how four alternative faiths attempt to explain suffering.

  • Hinduism views suffering as karma, i.e. bringing balance for past wrongs.
  • Buddhism, which actually developed from Buddha's quest to explain suffering, believes all suffering is just an illusion. It stems from a desire or affection for things of the world (e.g. comfort, health, money, love, etc.). If we can simply strip away these desires and enter a state of nirvana (non-existence), then suffering will cease.
  • Islam believes all things are pre-determined by God, and that suffering is a direct result of Allah, the great "Unmoved Mover."
  • Atheism endures suffering as the natural, unhappy by-product of our random, godless universe.
In contrast to these four views, the Bible has a satisfactory explanation for suffering. Human violence and injustice, which causes so much of the suffering in this world, is really a perversion of the independence God originally gave the human spirit. People now live as "a law unto themselves, without reference to the Creator," and we are reaping what we sow. But what about the profound suffering caused by natural disasters, disease, death, starvation, etc.? These are a result of God's curse upon the world for our sin (Gen. 3:17-19). "The earth bears the scars, as it were, of the traumatic rift that has occurred between us and God; it contains an ever-present reminder that the Creator is displeased with our defiance of him."

The author does not merely explain suffering, but provides three comforting truths that give hope and peace even in times of suffering:
  • God will eventually judge and repay all the injustice in the world.
  • God will eventually restore and re-create His world in perfection.
  • By sending His Son to the cross, God Himself has suffered to the greatest degree, and through His suffering provides a substitute for us, so that we do not have to spend eternity apart from Him.
If I Were God, I'd End All the Pain is a brief but helpful Christian apologetic on suffering. While the Bible does not claim to give us all the answers, it gives us enough to keep clinging to God and persevering through life's darkest moments.

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