If God Is Good: Partial Annotated Bibliography


If God Is Good…

Partial Annotated Bibliography


If God Is Good ...I research extensively and love doing it. While what follows isn’t comprehensive, it does contain many of the books I read while working on If God Is Good. With a few exceptions, including Bart Ehrman’s book God’s Problem, I didn’t include writings by atheists or other books I wouldn’t recommend. I did cite several books containing much I don’t believe, including those promoting Open Theism. But most of the books  I’ve cited here are ones which I found to be at least somewhat good, helpful, and interesting. A number of them are excellent. —Randy Alcorn

 

Jay Adams, The Grand Demonstration: A Biblical Study of the So-Called Problem of Evil (Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1991).

The author argues that there is actually no problem of evil, since evil is required so God can demonstrate His character, including His justice and grace. He appeals especially to the doctrine of election in Romans 9. The book includes an interesting feature: refutation by John Frame, who argues that Jay Adams overstates his case.

 

James K. Beilby & Paul R. Eddy, editors, Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001).

Gregory Boyd espouses open theism, David Hunt simple-foreknowledge, William Lane Craig middle-foreknowledge, and Paul Helm the Augustinian-Calvinist view.

 

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994).

An interesting and academic presentation by an accomplished French scholar. Not easy reading, but will be of interest to pastors, teachers, and lay people who wish to pursue the problem of evil at a deep level.

 

Gregory A. Boyd, Is God to Blame?: Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

Boyd challenges the traditional doctrine of divine omniscience and sovereignty, saying that God does not know future contingent human choices in advance and therefore cannot prevent certain evils.

 

Gregory A. Boyd, Satan & the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

Boyd attempts to refute the Calvinistic position.

 

Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control? Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006).

A solid presentation of God’s sovereignty. Bridges appeals to Scripture and quotes Puritan writers.

 

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008).

For those facing difficult times. Deals wonderfully with God’s Sovereignty, God’s Wisdom, and God’s Love. True to typical Bridges form, full of Scripture and devotional warmth. A fine book.

 

Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005).

An accomplished singer and songwriter effectively argues for the biblical approach to lament. Deep, engaging and interesting.

 

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000).

Based on a series of four lectures. In this small but significant and wise book, Carson argues that that many see love as God’s only attribute. What makes his love difficult is that it coexists with his holiness, sovereignty, and wrath.

 

D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, IL: Baker Academic, 2006).

A clear and biblical treatment of the problem of evil and suffering written by an outstanding theologian. Excellent. On my short list of essential books on the subject.

 

Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? Softcover (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999).

Develops the Christian worldview as a whole, including a perspective on the problem of evil.

 

William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003).

Most of this book isn’t about the problem of evil (it deals with abortion, homosexuality, and other topics), but the portion that pertains is thoughtful and engaging. Craig represents what is known as the Molinist (middle knowledge) position.

 

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).

Like the previous book, most of this one isn’t about the problem of evil, but again Craig does a good job with those portions that are.

 

James L. Crenshaw, Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005).

A guide to literature on the problem of evil. The author’s logic seems stronger in some areas than others. Not a first book to read on this subject, but portions are helpful.

 

Stephen T. Davis, editor, Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy - revised (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

Stephen Davis selected five scholars taking different approaches to theodicy. I’ll mention three: John Roth presents a theodicy of protest in which he states God has a dark side, and is not totally good. John Hick sees God as concerned about “soul making” and unable to stop evil lest he inhibit human free will. Davis himself presents a more classic Christian perspective of the doctrine of sin and Christ’s redemptive work.

 

M. R. DeHaan, M.D., Broken Things: The Ministry of Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1948).

An older work of a pastoral nature, biblical and caring, not primarily theological or philosophical.

 

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (New York, NY: Vintage International, 2006).

A concisely written, heartfelt and sometimes excruciating book that documents the death of Didion’s husband and the effect it had on her. Extremely well written, though Christian readers will be sad that Didion did not find hope in the gospel of Christ.

 

James Dobson, When God Doesn't Make Sense (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993).

A popularly written treatment of the problem of evil and suffering. Full of illustrations from families and Scripture, it is a good general book, understandable to many who would not wade through the more philosophical and theological books. Its approach is warm and affirming. Those needing the help of a pastor or counselor will benefit from it.

 

Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008).

See the entire chapter devoted to this work in my book If God is Good. Bottom line, while the book contains good insights here and there, as a whole it is a tragic account of a man who considered himself an evangelical Christian, shared his faith, attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and then abandoned his faith due to his inability to come to terms with the problem of evil and suffering.

 

Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God's Mercy and Our Pain (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1990).

Elisabeth, who suffered through the death of her missionary martyr husband Jim, and another husband’s death, is honest and biblically rock solid.  

 

John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004).

First published in 1979, updated and revised in 1993, and again in 2003. Covers various approaches and philosophies concerning the problem of evil. Those looking for a book that is both good theologically and good philosophically should look here.

The book goes into great detail, which well-read philosophy students will appreciate. Feinberg’s biggest contribution to the discussion may be his emphasis that there is no such thing as “the problem of evil,” but in fact there are a number of distinguishable problems that fall under the umbrella of the problem of evil. He says answers to one problem should not be dismissed because there are other problems they don’t answer or address.

 

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Deserted by God? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993).

An overlooked work from a respected author, dealing especially with the psalms.

 

Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007).

A unique voice with some good insights and good theology, offered in a series of brief meditations.

 

John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1994).

Most of the book covers other issues, but it includes a good section on the problem of evil and suffering. Those into theology and philosophy will find it interesting, but not simple. Though both are Reformed in theology, Frame disagrees with Jay Adams’s treatment of the issue in The Grand Demonstration. But admirably, in an appendix he invited Jay Adams to offer an unedited critique of Frame’s treatment of his position. An odd but refreshing way to end reading a book, with someone saying the author was wrong! Of course, there is much that Frame and Adams agree on, but some readers will side with Frame, some with Adams and some with neither. Personally, I land close to Frame, though not in all areas.  

 

John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2002).

A treatment of the person and works of God by a Reformed scholar. Since God’s attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, holiness, goodness, love, and longsuffering all have great bearing on the problem of evil, this fine book equips readers, mostly indirectly, to address it. Similarly, Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy and Packer’s Knowing God do the same, as do the chapters on God’s attributes in Wayne Grudem’s marvelous Systematic Theology.

 

Ken Gire, The North Face of God: Hope for the Times when God Seems Indifferent (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005).

On my short list of great books on this subject, Ken Gire’s book is heartfelt and profound, holding the reader’s hand in the darkness. Nothing trite, no easy answers. The analogy of mountain climbing works very well. Gire is a fine writer and thinker. This is a great book for those whose long-term life experiences have left them at times feeling abandoned by God. Much warmth, understanding, and solace.

 

Mark H. Graeser, John A. Lynn, John W. Schoenheit, Don’t Blame God! A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin and Suffering (Indianapolis, IN: Christian Educational Services, 1994).

Unfortunately, in spite of its subtitle, the book’s premise is not biblical. The book “exposes the myth that God is totally in control of all that happens (which would make Him responsible for it) and shows that He and His Son Jesus Christ are doing all they can to intervene in the realm of the Devil and help us.” While correctly blaming the devil for hating us and trying to hurt us, this book misses the sovereign work of an omnipotent God, who is not helpless in the face of Satan’s works, and can and ultimately will use even those evil things for His glory and His people’s good.

 

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994).

Wayne Grudem’s marvelous systematic theology is a resource I go to often. I cited it a number of times in If God is Good. I used Wayne’s terms “total inability” instead of total depravity, and “inherited sin” instead of original sin. He offers great insights on the full range of issues related to the problem of evil, and has a great section on common grace. Years ago I led a group of young men through a one year study of Grudem’s theology, and it was a wonderful investment for all of us. On my short list of books in case I’m ever stranded on that remote island. Probably number two only after God’s Word. (No, none of my books make my short list.)

 

Os Guinness, Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in An Age of Genocide and Terror (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Publisher, 2005).

Os is an intellectual, writer, and speaker who served as a young man with Francis Schaeffer. He’s always insightful, and this book is no exception. It is a well-written and well-reasoned approach with its own unique and interesting style. He quotes many philosophers and historical figures, and tells many stories from the death camps. It is painfully honest about the horrors of evil, while unapologetically hopeful of the universe’s future in Christ’s redemptive work. A good book for the well educated unbeliever or believer. Os’s grasp of philosophy and history is broad and convincing.

 

Nancy Guthrie, Holding On To Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002).

After the loss of two children, Nancy wrote honestly and from the heart. Her treatment of the book of Job is excellent. I interviewed her and her husband while writing If God is Good, and quoted from them several times. Biblical, and with a big view of God, she never minimizes the reality and depth of suffering.

 

Douglas John Hall, God and Human Suffering: An Exercise in the Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing, 1986).

Interesting insights spread out among some I disagree with. Not my personal favorite, though some love it. Hall evaluates five thinkers on suffering: Harold Kushner, C. S. Lewis, Diogenes Allen, George Buttrick, and Leslie Weatherhead.

 

David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Theological Reflections on the Indian Ocean Disaster 2004 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

A university professor, and Eastern Orthodox theologian, wrote this just-over-100-page book. The book took me completely by surprise because it combines depth and brevity, and brings clarity to the philosophical struggles surrounding the problem of evil. Some readers will not appreciate the number of words they’ve never encountered! Sometimes a half dozen of these advanced vocabulary words are on a single page, with some sentences exceeding 100 words. Hart is a scholar who does not put the cookies on the lower shelf, but rewards you for stretching upward to grab some very good ones.

 

Peter Hicks, The Message of Evil & Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 2007).

After I had read perhaps eighty books on this issue, and thought very little could now be fresh, I read this book. It’s a wealth of insight from a variety of passages, one of the finest overall treatments of the problem of evil and suffering.

 

Michael Horton, Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).

A biblical and insightful work, good for pastors and serious thinking lay people. Takes some shots at prosperity theology that are well deserved. Theologically sound, with a big view of God and His sovereign purposes.

 

Deborah Howard, Sunsets: Reflections for Life's Final Journey (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005).

A hospice nurse’s insights on death and dying. Helpful for caregivers. Good theological perspective, perhaps more about being a hospice nurse than will interest some, but many readers will profit.

 

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008).

Excellent book, and excellent chapter on the problem of evil. Keller says, “If you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs—you will discover that your doubts are not so solid as they first appeared.” 

Concerning suffering, Keller says, “With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?”

 

Joseph F. Kelly, The Problem of Evil in the Western Tradition: From the Book of Job to Modern Genetics (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1989).

In a unique approach, the author covers an interesting collection of sources, including the book of Job, Revelation, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Milton, Voltaire, Hume, Mary Shelley, Darwin, Jung, Flannery O’Connor, Karl Rahner, Teilhard de Chardin, Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov and modern geneticists. Not one of the first books I would recommend, but I gleaned some good insights from it.

 

Peter Kreeft, Making Sense Out of Suffering (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986).

I always find Kreeft, a Christian philosopher, interesting. Though I sometimes disagree with his positions as a Roman Catholic, at other times I think he’s right on the money. A unique and worthwhile book.

 

John P. Lacroix, The Problem of Evil (Cincinnati, OH: Hitchcock & Walden, 1871).

I refer in If God is Good to this nearly 140-year-old book, originally written in French, that could in most respects have been written anywhere in the world today. The illustrations differ, but the insights are timeless.

 

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (Whitstable, Kent, Great Britain: Whitstable Litho, 1966).

Personal and anguished, this is a gripping journal-like book that captures the reality of grief. As I say in If God is Good, this book is commonly cited as evidence that Lewis “lost his faith.” In fact, the book clearly shows that Lewis in his wrestling was moving back toward a faith in God refined through his suffering. Hurting people usually resonate with this book, saying, “I felt the same way.” I recently reread The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed back to back. A fascinating experience. The books complement each other beautifully.  

 

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: The Intellectual Problem Raised by Human Suffering, examined with sympathy and realism (New York, NY: MacMillan, 1962).

I read this book as a brand new Christian in high school, my first Lewis book. Chapters include God’s Omnipotence, Human Wickedness, Human Pain, and Heaven, as well as Animal Pain. Lewis writes, “I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine that being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” Deep, witty, unpredictable, refreshing and beautifully written. Yes, while I don’t always agree with him, I usually do, and I am an unapologetic fan of C. S. Lewis.

 

Herbert Lockyer, Dark Threads the Weaver Needs (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1979).

A good book from a fine Bible student whose wife suffered a long-term illness.

 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Why Does God Allow Suffering? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994).

Lloyd-Jones wrote this book, based on some of his sermons, during World War II. But while war is the overall context, it applies to all suffering. The rare combination of theologian and psychologist, Martyn Lloyd-Jones is deep and insightful, true to Scripture and to the human condition.

 

Beth J. Lueders, Lifting Our Eyes: Finding God’s Grace Through The Virginia Tech Tragedy (New York, NY: Berkley Books, 2007).

This is the story of Virginia Tech student Lauren McCain who was killed with thirty-one others, at the hands of a gunman. Some of the book is about coping with such a tragedy. It includes excerpts from Lauren’s journal, which show a young woman sold out to Christ. She reminds me somewhat of Rachel Scott from the Columbine tragedy. I interviewed Darrel Scott, Rachel’s dad, as I researched If God is Good.  

 

Erwin W. Lutzer, Where Was God? Answers to Tough Questions About God and Natural Disasters (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006).

Is God sovereign, even in natural disasters? Why does he allow such tragedies? Lutzer is a pastor and fine Bible student. He addresses God’s goodness, purposes, and plans.

 

Archibald MacLeish, J. B. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1956).

This little book is actually a play written on the life of Job. Its theology is not biblical, yet it is a creative expression of the problem of evil and suffering the Bible often raises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t set forth biblical perspectives.

 

Marc Maillefer, God in the Storm (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005).

Personal and pastoral, wise and biblical, a small book with a strong recognition of God’s sovereignty.

 

Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have To Hurt? The Meaning of Christian Suffering (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1998).

A fine book that is honest and logical. Biblical and easy to read. On my short list of books on this subject.

 

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, editors, Suffering and the Goodness of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).

Count the number of books I cite on this list that are published by Crossway. One of my favorite publishers, Crossway can be depended on to have biblically sound materials. This book is substantial reading, but not difficult. The ten contributors speak with honesty and explore biblical and theological issues. Walter Kaiser addresses how suffering is handled in the Old Testament. Some contributions seemed better than others, but of course, it’s inevitable that every reader will be interested more in certain subjects. Likely what didn’t sing to me is exactly what some readers will need. John Frame’s chapter on the problem of evil is excellent. Later chapters are practical, including John Feinberg’s, who is somewhat theological but mostly practical as he deals, in light of his wife’s serious illness, with what is and isn’t helpful in comforting others.   

 

Jon Tal Murphree, A Loving God & A Suffering World, A New Look at an Old Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981).

Though it is somewhat dated, I gleaned some good insights from portions of the book.

 

Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988).

A well-written apologetic with some strong theological and philosophical support. Nothing shallow about this book, and portions are not suitable for quick reading. Reformed, yet states his case differently than other Reformed writers, including his handling of free will (in If God is Good, I call it “meaningful choice”).  

 

J. I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002).

I’m an incurable J. I. Packer fan (see my blog post on J. I. Packer), and if I weren’t I might not have read this, but I did enjoy it.  Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, author of The Saint’s Everlasting Rest which I quote from in my book Heaven, wrote a wonderful tribute to his beloved wife, and to God’s grace, after her death at age forty-five. He spoke of his grief. J. I. Packer adds his own insights and speaks also of C. S. Lewis’s grieving over his wife Joy, documented in A Grief Observed.

 

John Piper, The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002).

This interpretive poem telling the story of Job is insightful and uplifting, exalting God’s sovereignty and grace. The story is complemented by great photography. Also contains a CD in which Piper reads the poem the way he meant it to be read.

 

John Piper, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008).

God is sovereign, good and merciful. He can use for his glory and our good even the worst of sins. An excellent and thoughtful work.

 

John Piper, Justin Taylor, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006).

An exceptional book, coming out of the 2005 Desiring God national conference. Contributors include four good friends, John Piper, Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Saint, and Justin Taylor. I don’t know personally but very much appreciate Carl Ellis, David Powlison, Dustin Shramek, and Mark Talbot. There is an emphasis on God’s sovereign purpose in suffering, but different aspects are approached in very different styles. Still, the book is unified. The appendix “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” was written by John Piper and David Powlison, both of whom were diagnosed with prostate cancer around the same time.

 

John Piper, Justin Taylor, Paul Kjoss Helseth, editors, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003).

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow.” Since open theism came along, this is no longer the case. Open theists believe God knows everything that can be known, but it is inherently impossible even for God to know future contingent choices of beings with free will. I devote a chapter to open theism in If God is Good. It’s an attempt to solve the problem of evil and suffering by getting God off the hook because He doesn’t know in advance the evil choices that will be made and the suffering they will cause. Downsizing God is not the solution to the problem. The book contains an excellent introduction by Justin Taylor, with contributions by Piper, Grudem, Ware, Talbott, and several others.

 

John Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God--and Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006).

This is a little book that offers big comfort. It is John Piper not just as theologian, but as pastor. The stories of John Owen, John Bunyan, William Cowper, and John Newton are poignant. Quotes from Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter remind us that soul-grinding depression is nothing new in the church of Jesus Christ. This is a warm, concise and Christ-centered book for all who are facing a dark night of the soul, or who wish to help others who are.

 

Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978).

This book has had an extraordinary impact on modern philosophy. It offers a defense against the evidential argument from evil commonly used by atheists. Plantinga doesn’t try to explain God’s reasons, as he might if this were a theodicy. Rather, he simply and convincingly shows that it is logically compatible for a good God to coexist with evil. Plantinga’s argument is so sound, that while many nontheists philosophers may still believe it is improbable that a good and all-powerful God coexists with evil, they acknowledge it is logically possible. The discussion of different possible worlds and various philosophical ponderings will derail some readers, but I found it interesting. Compatibilists will believe that the author overstates the extent of free will. Still, I think there is some merit in his argument, even if he takes it too far.

 

Peg Rankin, Making Sense of Evil: 9/11 Eyewitness Finds Answers (Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 2006).

A surprisingly insightful book that is far more than a personal experience account of 9/11, though that part is interesting. It speaks of evil’s origin and consequences, and God’s sovereign control and redemptive purposes.

 

James S. Spiegel, The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005).

A solid treatment of the classic doctrine of divine providence, and the comfort it brings to God’s children. The book effectively answers the claims of open theism. Spiegel is a philosopher and this is not always easy reading, but it’s worthwhile.

 

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Can God Be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998).

A theologian, Stackhouse explores Scripture and philosophy in regard to the problem of evil, especially radical evil.  He writes of a variety of viewpoints represented by Buddha, Confucius, Augustine, Hume, Luther and C. S. Lewis. Instead of asking why, Stackhouse suggests we ask “Can God be trusted to be good and do good, even when appearances are strongly to the contrary?”

 

Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

Former award-winning investigative reporter Lee Strobel, a former atheist, raises the eight most convincing arguments against the Christian faith, the most prominent being the problem of evil and suffering. In the chapter on this subject he interviews Peter Kreeft, author of Making Sense Out of Suffering. Kreeft does a fine job, and Strobel writes in a compelling way. The whole book is excellent (I often give it away to unbelievers and believers alike).

 

Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1998).

There are theologically weak points, including the treatment of original sin, but scattered throughout there are good insights, including some in his treatment of so-called gratuitous evil.

 

Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Estes, A Step Further: Growing Closer to God Through Hurt and Hardship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).

A warm and biblically-based response to countless letters from people puzzled about why God permits them and their loved ones to suffer. It was first published in 1978, then updated in 1990. This edition includes sixteen pages of photos and illustrations by Joni.

 

Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Estes, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997).

I interviewed Joni and quote from her often in If God is Good, and she is one of a few dozen faithful people the book is dedicated to. She is a dear friend, and my wife and I consider her one of our favorite people. She writes beautifully, with freshness and passion, yet she and Steve stay theologically grounded throughout. This is biblically solid writing with a strong treatment of God’s sovereignty and goodness. If someone were to read only two books on the problem of evil and suffering, I would recommend this book along with D. A. Carson’s How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil.

 

Dr. John Luke Terveen, Hope for the Brokenhearted: God's Voice of Comfort in the Midst of Grief and Loss (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2006).

John Terveen is a friend and was part of our church when his daughter Rachel died.

Hope for the Brokenhearted is honest. It comes from the heart, where at times pain and faith and doubt have slugged it out inside the author. Grief is a journey, often confusing and sometimes terribly lonely. This book isn’t full of easy answers—which is good, since there are none. But it is full of hope and Christ-centered perspective.

A former pastor, Dr. Terveen is a Greek professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, a school I had the privilege of graduating from thirty years ago. His book is steeped in Scripture. It therefore has a power most books don’t. Those grieving need to hear from God. He promises His Word, not ours, will not return to Him empty, without accomplishing the purpose for which He sent it ( Isaiah 55:11).

Our churches and communities, our nation and our world, are filled with grieving people—numb, broken, bitter or simply exhausted. They need to hear from someone who has been where they are. John Terveen has been there.

 

Peter Van Inwagen, editor, Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004).

This book includes fourteen essays by various philosophers, as well as a theologian, and a sociologist. While some of the essays were less relevant to the purposes of my book, there are some rich insights spread throughout the volume that I’m grateful not to have missed. In particular, I recommend the essays by theologian John Schneider on the defeat of horrendous evil. Also those by Keith Wyma on original sin and Laura Waddell Ekstrom on suffering as original experience. Peter van Inwagen, the book’s editor, makes one of the finest brief statements anywhere on the problem of evil.

 

Bruce A. Ware, God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000).

Bruce is a thoughtful scholar who carefully critiques open theism and its view of God. I quote from him in If God is Good. The fact that this book is not only endorsed by Packer, Piper, Grudem and other Calvinists, but Jack Cottrell, an Arminian theologian, speaks convincingly of the fact that open theism is fundamentally incompatible with the historic orthodox Christian doctrine of God’s omniscience.

 

Bruce A. Ware, Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003).

The smaller of two books Bruce has written on open theism, it raises the question of whether someone can trust a “God” who can’t know the future choices that his creatures will make. This book is less complete and a bit easier to read than God's Lesser Glory.  

 

John W. Wenham, The Goodness of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974).

I picked up this book while in college, read portions of it, then reread it thirty-three years later while researching If God is Good. I found parts of it fascinating, including the portion on animal suffering. It’s long out of print, but worth reading if you can find it cheaper than the five used copies I just saw on Amazon, which range from $49 to $126!

 

N. T. Wright, Evil & the Justice of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006)

Another book that makes my short list. I appreciate that Wright calls upon the biblical revelation of the new heavens and new earth as his ultimate answer to the problem of evil. Too many books ignore the resurrection and the fact that the lives of God’s children here and now are but the beginning. Even in the few portions I disagreed with, I found Wright to be exceptionally insightful.  

For more insight on what there is to disagree with in Wright’s book, see D. A. Carson’s review that includes both appreciation and criticisms. Dr. Carson’s concerns range from the exegetical and theological to the “merely annoying”: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2007_review_Wright.pdf

 

R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

Addressing the undermining of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, Wright makes a case for the Reformed doctrine of God’s sovereign grace. Many who affirm that God grants us meaningful choice, as I do, take issue with the notion of free will as it is often presented. Those wondering why Calvinists don’t embrace the beliefs of libertarianism will find the answers in this book. Chapter ten is devoted to the problem of evil, which the author claims is not solved by the argument of human free will. While I agree with much in the book, I think the author interprets some biblical passages in light of his theology, rather than in light of their context and apparent straightforward meanings. Not all Calvinists or compatibilists will agree with everything in the book, but it is interesting reading.  

 

Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988).

Phil Yancey does a marvelous job addressing the matter of a God who doesn’t always do what we think he’s supposed to do. He seems silent and unfair. His book Where Is God When it Hurts? deals primarily with physical pain, while this one deals with emotional and mental pain. He got many letters from readers of the earlier book wondering “Where is God when it hurts emotionally?” Yancey appeals to the book of Job, handling it with insight and compassion, and draws from many other biblical passages God’s attributes. As always, the author tells great stories.   

 

Philip Yancey, Where Is God When it Hurts? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990).

If there has been one modern day classic on the problem of evil and suffering since C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, it may be Philip Yancey’s Where is God When It Hurts?, especially if we see it as part one, to which Disappointment with God serves as part two. First written in 1977 and revised in 1990. For many years as a pastor, I gave this book to hurting people. Yancey is thoughtful, concise, and never dodges the issues. Where Is God When It Hurts? is real literature, with substance, yet simplicity. No formulas, but full of honesty, perspective and hope. Yancey suggests we don’t ask “why” but “What for, To what end?” There’s much insight too for those trying to help others in suffering.

 

Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).

This book asks the “Why?” question about various issues and biblical passages. Why do good people suffer? Why did God judge the Canaanites the way he did?

Wright says, “To me it is a profoundly moving thought that the word that introduces our most tormenting questions—‘Why’— was uttered by Jesus on the very cross that was God’s answer to the question that the whole creation poses.”

He says that while we tend to ask “Why,” in Scripture people more often ask “How long?” They didn’t always expect an explanation but pled with God to intervene and bring a stop to evil and suffering.

The author writes, “I understand enough on the basis of what the Bible tells me to know that I owe everything I am now or ever will be to the love and grace of God supremely poured out at Calvary. But when I probe into why and how that is so, I join the multitudes who recognize depths and mysteries here that lie beyond our own understanding but not beyond our faith, praise and worship.”


Note from EPM: Randys book If God Is Good is now available for purchase online, in local bookstores, and from the Eternal Perspective Ministries website. (Check out the If God Is Good Chapter Summaries for a preview of the books content.)

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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