the goodness of God

The Goodness of God

A book review of The Goodness of God by Randy Alcorn

Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why would a good God allow such evil to transpire on His watch? These are difficult questions that have drawn people to God or repelled them from Him. These difficult questions have even sifted out Christians from among the ranks, “Evil and suffering have a way of exposing our inadequate theology. When affliction comes, a weak nominal Christian often discovers that his faith doesn’t account for it or prepare him for it.” [5]

In his book, The Goodness of God, Randy Alcorn practically, personally and biblically addresses common misunderstandings about why a good and sovereign would allow or permit suffering and evil to affect His creation. He points out the flawed thinking of many world views [i.e. relativism, buddhism, pantheism, atheism, dualism, open theism, gnosticism, etc.] that seek to diminish and deactivate God’s goodness in the face of pain and suffering in the world. Here are some of the questions covered in the book that aim to give you assurance in the midst of suffering.

If God is really good why is their evil?

Evil cannot exist without the good it opposes. It’s not so much the removal of good as it is the corruption of good. As metal does not need rust, but rust needs metal, so good doesn’t need evil, but evil needs good [10]. From the beginning God intended the permission of evil, but to turn it on its head and show His highest good in the midst of it. The ugliness of evil demonstrates the beauty of God’s goodness.

If God is good why all the suffering and pain?

Evil is the source of suffering. Suffering would not exist if there were no evil. With the Fall of man came suffering and pain as a righteous consequence man’s sinful disobedience. God allows and permits suffering and pain as part of His divine plan. Though God is not the causer of evil, but he is the author of the story that includes it [15].

If God is good why doesn’t he deal with evil?

He will. No evil will ever go unpunished [61]. Where is the justice? Sometimes God’s delay in our finite mind and time frame seems unjust, but “God delays justice not to make our lives miserable, but to make our lives possible.” [62] God’s delay is actually good, it allows for His grace to give us time to turn back to Him.

“Grace isn’t about God lowering His standards. It’s about God fulfilling those standards through the substitutionary suffering of Jesus Christ. Grace never ignores or violates truth. Grace gave what truth demanded: the ultimate sacrifice for our wickedness.” [24]

The problem is, “we want selective justice, not true justice. We cry out for justice when we really want vindication and special treatment–relief from injustice done against us, without being judged for injustices done by us. Since God is just, he cannot always give us the justice we want without also giving us the justice we deserve.” [62-62]

Our problem is further amplified because “we are utterly unqualified to assess how often we sin and how bad our sins are. Sin mean nothing to those who are riddled with it.” [85]

If God is good what is the purpose of evil?

Evil is never good, yet God can use any evil to accomplish good and sovereign purposes [34]. We would much rather have suffering and pain disappear and go away. However, is for our good and God’s working in us. What glorifies God is good for us [103],

“Suffering exposes idols in our lives. It uncovers our trust in God-substitutes and declare our need to transfer our trust to the only One who can bear its weight. We imagine God as our genie who comes to do our bidding. Suffering wakes us up to the fact that we serve Him, not He us.” [100]

In conclusion, there are more biblically satisfying answers to the questions above, which I did not mention along with encouraging and challenging stories of many who have walked through the fires of suffering and pain, but came through refined.

My only beef with the book is that it is too short. There is a practical solution. Get the bigger book. The Goodness of God is a snapshot of the panoramic taken from Randy Alcorn’s bigger treatise on the goodness of God in, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (2009, Eternal Perspective Ministries). The appetizer is a tasty teaser that makes you hunger for the main course.

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real questions: suffering?

suffering

Ned Anzers: It doesn’t seem fair that a loving God would allow bad things to happen. Why does God allow so much suffering?

This is an honest question.

I have often wondered the answer to this question myself. Years ago as a young boy, I would visit the nursing home to see my great grandmother Loretta. I remember these visits to this day. I was enamored by my great grandfather Roman’s care for his wife. They had been married for over half a century, but for many years she had been degenerating from the disease of Alzheimer’s. It was incredibly painful to see such a wonderful, witty woman who was so alive, not recognize who you were. As a young boy and even now as an adult it is still hard to understand why God allows this to happen, especially to one so undeserving. I will talk more about this in my conclusion.

I hear the stories my girlfriend Sarah, who tells me about where she grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How the authorities have raped and pillaged a beautiful land. I see and feel the emotion she bears from the scars of her home land.

Jesus tells a story in the Bible about a real life catastrophe. It was about landmark tower took years to build, and seconds to fall. It stood as a powerful symbol of strength, security and prosperity, but in only moments became cloud of dust that blanketed the neighboring streets. As the dust and debris settled and the death toll rang out to the shaken city (18 people), the skyline was now empty and mournful. People were trying to make sense of the calamity. When Jesus talked about this tragedy at Siloam He knew it wouldn’t be the last (Luke 13:5).

We want explanation for the disaster, injustice, abuse, sickness, poverty, pain and suffering. So did people of the Bible (Jer.12:1, Hab.1:2-3, Ps.6:3). Where are you now God? Have you forgotten? Don’t you care?

Sometimes people think that the presence of suffering means the absence of God. Does suffering mean there is no God?

Certainly not. I would certainly be more fearful of the consequence of believing there is no God.  Jesus says there is significance to the human life (Luke 12:6-7, 24). Those who die are not forgotten by God. If we reject God because of suffering then we have to face a world that is much worse: meaningless suffering. Without God there would be no justice (Ecc.3:16ff; Acts 17:31; Mal.4:5), and no future (Ecc.3:20; John 11:25-26). Death would be the end of life. No after life. Without God there would be no significance to life (Ecc.3:18). We would be just animals with clothes on. Killing becomes like that of a lion killing a antelope. The killings of Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, Auschwitz, Manhattan, Virginia Tech and others would be without pity or horror. That is a scary world to me. A world without hope or meaning.

What is the meaning of suffering?

Going back to the story of Jesus and the collapsed tower we learn some very practical principles about suffering (Luke 12:54-13:5). First, we see the reality of sin. Suffering is not always caused because of man’s sinfulness or lack of acknowledgment that there is a God. God is not a bully trying to pressure His creation into submission. Second, through suffering we see the fragility of life. Life is short and we must trust God with our eternal destiny’s. Third, we see that God is with us through the suffering. Fourth, we see that suffering cause us to depend upon God.

We have a God that knows all about suffering. He is a God that has experienced suffering Himself. Jesus experienced abuse, betrayal of friends, gossip, hunger, alienation from family, torture, thirst, homelessness, religious persecution, bullied, death of close friends, unfair trial, excruciation prolonged execution. He wept and saw suffering like we do and gave up his own life to do something about it. The cross represents forgiveness for all those who cause suffering or experience suffering. On the cross we see a suffering God, suffering for His own people because He loves them and wants to free them from all suffering in eternity (John 3:16). God’s suffering was for our greater good and a proof of His love.

What does this love in suffering look like in real life?

Going back to the story of my great grandmother Loretta Rothe: I the mist of her suffering I saw an amazing picture of love that I would only wish to aspire for one day. My great grandfather would care for her when most in his shoes would bail. He would comb her hair, feed her dinner, read to her and prove that his love for his wife was “in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Suffering shows our true colors. I would only hope to have a similar perseverance in the midst of pain.