Why God Allows Us to Suffer – a review

Throughout all of Christian history, the question of why God allows suffering has been wrestled with, prayed over, and addressed by Christian laymen and scholars. In Why God Allows Us to Suffer, author Kevin Tewes tries his hand at this age-old question. Unfortunately, his treatment of the issue is dissatisfying on aesthetic, literary, and theological grounds.

The first thing that stands out in Tewes’ book is an undercurrent of hubris that spoils even his most savory statements with an aftertaste of pomposity. After his introduction of the classic “trilemma,” (1. God is all powerful, 2. God is all loving, 3. Evil exists), the author surveys briefly some of the classic Christian “solutions,” then proposes to offer his own. Where the problem first rears its head is in the last paragraph of the introduction:

In the pages that follow I present an entirely new and comprehensive solution to the most confounding enigma of the Christian faith. This solution, moreover, does what no other proposed explanation to the problem of pain has ever done – it takes an honest (italics his) account of the mindboggling scale, arbitrariness and brutality of suffering that occurs in this world, while remaining wholly consistent with the Bible. Put simply, [1]what follows is the definitive solution to the problem of pain and the problem of evil.[2]

So, not only does the author contend that his solution in completely novel (“does what no other proposed explanation. . . has ever done”), but that it is the definitive solution to the issue.  In all my years of reading Christian literature, including three years of seminary studies, I have only once encountered an author that approached his work with less humility.

The second issue I had with the book has to do with literary style. It is often repetitive, almost as if the author is trying to get to a page-quota by restating his point in another way. This would be reasonable if the reiterations shed further light or examined an issue from different angles, but that is not the case here. Additionally, his footnotes, with rare exception, do not include page numbers. In a theological work this is, quite simply, unacceptable. A critical part of theological dialogue is being able to trace your lines of research and support for your arguments. The omitted page numbers not only break with convention, but make it difficult to engage the work on any serious level.

The theological failings of the book are many, and to enumerate all of them would cause more ink to be spilt than I am willing (I have other books to read). The first I will mention is a misrepresentation of the omniscience (all-knowingness) of God. When discussing the fall of Adam and Eve, he writes, “Consider the decision that God faced,” and then he goes on to lay out the “dilemma” God was faced with following the fall.[3] It’s almost as if God was surprised by the act of sin and had to wonder to himself, “What now?” Later, he undermines the deity of Christ, writing that in His suffering, “Christ had no assurance that His suffering and death would serve any meaningful purpose.”[4] Then he suggests that this faithless moment of Christ was necessary because “[l]ove is not possible without faith.” Further, he writes that, “Because Christ’s perfect faith is a necessary condition for the very existence of God, God Himself would have perished had Christ’s faith in the Father failed at Calvary. Thus it is fair to say that ‘everything’ was risked while Christ was on the cross.”[5] This is an affront to the very nature of Christ and the redemption, and to the biblical testimony.

The last thing I will address is the premise of Tewes’ “solution.” His solution is that the highest purpose of man’s creation is that man can experience love. This experience of love, he contends, requires the ability to experience pain. For, only free agents are able to love and experience love, and those same free agents are free to choose something other than love, which causes pain. This thesis is problematic for two reasons. First of all, as the Westminster Confession so aptly states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This is consistent with the biblical record, as well as two millennia of Christian thought. Tewes’ view if frighteningly man-centric and is unrecognizable as sound theology. Second, all Tewes has really done with this argument is to re-tool the “free-will” argument, which he decries as insufficient, and call it by another name.[6]

In conclusion, the reader interested in studying the subject matter presented in this book would be far better served reading C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, or the section of the topic (called theodicies) in virtually any systematic theology. Why God Allows Us to Suffer simply does not pass muster, and I cannot recommend it.

 

[1] Kevin Tewes, Why God Allows Us to Suffer, (Chapel Hill, Triune Publishing Group, 2015).

[2] Ibid., 13-14.

[3] Ibid., 90.

[4] Ibid., 105.

[5] Ibid., 106.

[6] For Tewes’ critique of other arguments, see pp. 5-12.

The Patriot Principle FTC Disclaimer

In accordance with FTC guidelines for bloggers, I would like to be clear that many of the books (including this one) reviewed on The Patriot Principle are provided by the publisher/author free of charge. I am not compensated for my reviews. All of my opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by the way I obtain my materials. I am not required to post a good review in order to obtain the book, nor will I give a good review if I think the book is not good.

 

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About Christopher J Ray

Blogger, avid reader, banker, father.
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