Building the Minister’s Library: Sin and Suffering
John G. Bales
We do not have to read too far into the biblical narrative before we discover something has gone terribly wrong with God’s perfect creation. Sin enters in quickly and its effects are devastating. God pronounces curses for breaking his covenant stipulations: struggles, pain, suffering and ultimately death. Since that time, man has endured great affliction, sometimes unspeakable suffering. Lamentation and grief are woven throughout the Old Testament, achingly voiced in so many stories.
However, the gospel is that God has dealt decisively with sin and its consequent suffering by making “him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Affliction continues, but God offers eschatological hope for the consummation of his kingdom and the end of suffering for his children. But because affliction continues man still asks, “If God is God, then why this?” Below is a list of books to help us begin to think about this perennial problem.
Carson, D. A. How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Carson is a skilled biblical scholar and a compassionate pastor.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Brothers Karamazov. New York: Knopf, 1992. Dostoyevsky, perhaps better than any other novelist, places suffering in the story of human lives and in the questioning voice of Ivan, so that we can consider suffering in concrete form.
Horton, Michael S. A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering. (Previously Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. Horton identifies suffering, but then beautifully points us to Christ and the gospel. His style is readable and accessible.
Kreeft, Peter. Making Sense Out of Suffering. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986. Kreeft is an able and wise philosopher, but his approach is anything but philosophical.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain; Surprised by Joy; The Shape of My Early Life; and A Grief Observed. Lewis’ story is remarkable, tender and honest. A series of classics.
Piper, John, and Justin Taylor. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006. The advantage of this book is that several authors examine the problem of suffering in view of the biblical doctrine of the God’s sovereignty.
Gerstenberger, Erhard, and Wolfgang Schrage. Suffering. Biblical encounters series. Nashville: Abingdon, 1980. Two competent scholars examine the much of the biblical evidence for suffering, proposing a surprising response.
Sittser, Gerald Lawson. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996. Jerry was my college chaplain. When he lost his mother, wife and daughter in a car accident, he walked through an awful valley of the shadow, but he emerged with the courage and grace to show us a slight glimpse of the darkness and the light.
Wiesenthal, Simon. The Sunflower. New York: Schocken Books, 1976. Wiesenthal, who lost 89 relatives at the hands of the Nazis, presents a hypothetical World War II encounter between a dying Nazi soldier and a Jew. Should the Jew offer forgiveness for what has transpired? A “fascinating symposium of responses follows.”
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Lament for a Son. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987. Wolterstorff tells of the devastating loss of his eldest child and reflects on his bereavement.