Is God Good When We Suffer?

This book is the inaugural book in a new series that will seek to do theology in a context of community. What this primarily means is that each book will be written by a team of authors. It is based on the idea that theology should be done by the church for the church. I must say that this is not only intriguing as an idea, but I believe necessary if the church is going to reclaim the theological academy. The first book does not disappoint.

The introductory chapter is by Robert Yarbrough and lays out the book as well as some of the large-scale problems when dealing with suffering. There are four chapters on biblical studies, two by Walter Kaiser on the Old Testament data, and two by Dan McCartney on the New Testament data. Then follows a biblical theological study tying together the biblical studies. John Frame contributes a good chapter on theodicy, followed by a more apologetic chapter by Bill Edgar. The last two chapters tell individual stories of suffering and how God works through suffering, one by David Calhoun, who has suffered cancer for many years, and John Feinberg, whose wife was diagnosed with a debilitating disease that could have been diagnosed earlier.

All the chapters provoke thought. I found the last chapter the most compelling. The chapter by John Frame had some excellent philosophical-theological points. I found the chapters by Kaiser mostly good, although I strongly disagree with his assessment of God suffering (p. 66, 73). He does not take into account the nature of anthropomorphic language concerning God. Systematic theology has had little impact on Kaiser’s formulation here.

The chapter by Calhoun was also very helpful in bringing together many wonderful poems and hymns that deal with the question. Calhoun rightly notes that sometimes poetry has to be the language of suffering. All in all, I would recommend the book as being a very compassionate, pastoral, and biblical account of suffering (with the caveat mentioned above). The book is a very nice hardcover, bound in signatures.

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5 Comments

  1. Andrew said,

    April 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Sounds pretty good.

    Not entirely clear on the community idea – do the authors interact together during writing?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    April 21, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Not explicitly, but they definitely build on and depend on each other in the book.

  3. ray said,

    April 21, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    God certainly is good when we suffer …. I do not need another book to tell me that …. the Gospel is pretty clear on this … no doubt too many folk are mesmorized by common grace theology which thus requires such a substandard book to make the point …which I assume does make that point. I may be hoping against hope though.

    Remember Job. Remember Christ and Him crucified. If the book does not … toss it to the garbage….

  4. Richard said,

    April 22, 2009 at 2:47 am

    Barth noted,

    From our point of view as creatures, there are “good” things and “evil” things. But the certainty of the fatherly governance of God teaches us how to be thankful for whatever he sends our way. For all things are under his governance. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it even more positively (27): “All things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” Therefore there can be no need for a theodicy, no need to justify God in all he does, since everything that happens is in his hands and since good and evil cannot be judged “in themselves,” but in relation to his fatherly goodness.

  5. Roberto said,

    April 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I bought this book late last year as my dad was dying of brain cancer ( he went to be with the Lord December 10th). I adapted a poem cited in a chapter for the program to the memorial service. Insightful book. Takes a more well rounded approach to a reformed response to evil and suffering. I recommend it.


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