There are many areas of apologetics that people find interesting. However, there is one area that is more personal and close to the heart and that is the problem of evil. From biblical times down to the present, Christians have wrestled with the problem of evil and suffering. In recent years, treatments of evil have fallen into two extremes: 1) highly technical and philosophical treatises, and 2) popular and rather shallow examinations that offer little more than Christian cliches. Norman Geisler, in If God, Why Evil?, is able to bridge the gap between these two extremes. Despite the subtitle, there is not much new about the questions asked, but the depth and accessibility of the answers is extremely refreshing.
Geisler begins with three views of evil: pantheism, atheism and theism, arguing that the theistic treatment is the best. The nature of evil is the heart of the problem, leaving people wondering how God could create evil. Geisler suggests that evil is not something but is rather the absence of something. Geisler deals with the origin of evil, explaining that it comes from Lucifer and not God. Perhaps suffering in the short-term could be endured but the persistence of evil is a problem. Geisler argues that just because God has not yet removed evil, does not mean that he will not. While from our perspective evil often seems pointless, Geisler demonstrates, both from the Bible and experience, that God often uses evil to bring about a greater good. Geisler brings his philosophical knowledge to bear on the question of why God cannot remove evil while protecting our freedom. As we see so many natural disasters around the world, Geisler helpfully works through a number of the issues that surround physical evil. Part of people’s struggle with God is the question of miracles. With great humility, Geisler wrestles with the problem of why sometimes God miraculously intervenes in suffering and why he often does not. The final two chapters are two of the most common and hardest questions: the problem of hell and the problem of those who have never heard about Jesus. Geisler addresses these problems with a strong commitment to the Bible and a pastoral heart toward the difficulty of the answers. The book ends with three appendices: 1) the problem of animal death before Adam, 2) evidence for the existence of God, and 3) a critique of the Shack.
The great strength of this book is the balance Geisler is able to maintain between philosophical depth and accessibility. Geisler has thought through each of the questions and he presents his arguments with full philosophical integrity. At the same time, Geisler presents his material with many illustrations from his pastoral ministry and even his own private life. Geisler is well aware that these are not just theoretical issues but that they are causing real pain for real people. Geisler has witnessed and experienced this same pain and it impacts his presentation. Another strength of this book is that Geisler is able to be strong on the issues where there is a clear biblical answer but is not afraid to be flexible in the areas where there is more ambiguity. Geisler, without being dogmatic in this latter category, presents the options with their strengths and weaknesses, and allows the reader to determine their own position.
This is an important and useful book for both skeptics and for Christians who are struggling with suffering. No matter where one is at on their spiritual walk, If God, Why Evil? has something to teach all of us.
Stephen J. Bedard