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INTERROGATING GOD: Seven Questions That Cause You To doubt His Goodness

Seven Questions That Cause You to Doubt His Goodness
By John R. Spencer
DeerVale Publishing -- April 2020, 235 pp

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
June 11, 2020

Those familiar with the writings of John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, which instantly became recognized as a modern theological classic, and C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain, may find a worthy successor in the Rev. John Spencer's book Interrogating God.

Plagued as the world is right now by COVID-19, the problem of God and natural evil has raced to the forefront of most thoughtful minds. If so, you might be asking one of the following questions:

1. If God exists and is really good--and loving--why would he allow so much evil in the world?
2. Why doesn't God intervene to stop specific evil events, like a horrible school shooting. If he really is almighty (all powerful), why can't he just prevent them?
3. If God does not stop a specific evil event, doesn't this lead to the unavoidable conclusion that God is not all-powerful, and is simply too weak to stop tragedies?
4. If God allows something terrible to happen to me personally, doesn't that show he really doesn't love me or never cared about me in the first place?
5. Why do we have to die? This (surely) universal question encompasses several related, subset questions: we are obviously designed to live, so why death? Christians in particular will ask, "Didn't Jesus Christ promise us 'eternal life? Didn't he supposedly 'overcome death'? Why, then, must we still die?"
6. What about hell? How could a loving God condemn anyone to an eternal hell?
7. Why doesn't Jesus come back --today--and stop all this evil, and death, and destruction? He promised to return. Why is he waiting?

The author brings to the book a broad diverse experience as an Anglican priest with twenty years of pastoral ministry, law enforcement experience, social work and teaching, he writes from the trenches that include deep personal tragedy and not from an ivory tower.

Central to his thought is the idea of "Shared Sovereignty" a fundamental principle of biblical truth that the all-sovereign God who made the universe created mankind to share in ruling and caring for this world. God has given us the ability to make choices, and thus the capacity to love. God has placed tremendous power into our hearts, minds, and hands. He has created us to be "co-rulers" with him of this world.

The consequence of Shared Sovereignty, however, is that it opens the door for evil. Our first question, "If God exists and is really good -- and loving -- why would he allow so much evil in the world? We now know the answer. God allows evil because he allows us. He made creatures with independent wills who can work against him, who can act in conflict with his own will, and he permits this. Evil is not a simple matter. Evil compounds.

If God does not stop a specific evil event, doesn't this lead to the unavoidable conclusion that God is not all-powerful, and is simply too weak to stop tragedies? The answer is "No" to both parts of the question. God possesses unimaginable power beyond anything he chooses at any "instant". If God chooses not to interfere with some occurrence of evil, this does not show him to be weak. It shows that he is willing to restrain his power for some important reason. While that reason may elude us, it may be exactly this: God will sometimes allow evil to occur because we must learn the consequences of what happens when we exercise the power he has given us as co-rulers.

The author points to the rebellion found in Genesis 3 and how humankind ran off the rails. The consequences of that rebellion have universal consequences for all mankind. We are given dominion, but we have our limits. When God allows evil, he also has a broader, overarching plan to overcome the consequences of damage of evil in order to restore and perfect his creation.

* God does not ignore evil, he despises it.
* He refrains from preventing some things from happening not because he is too weak but out of divine strength.
* A part of the strength is his divine patience (2 Peter 3:8-9).
* He knows that overriding our decisions and actions on a day to day, moment to moment basis would interfere with his overarching plan for each of us, and for his world.

We cannot have it both ways. We can't complain that God does not intervene at every moment to stop evil, yet still want to maintain the freedom he has given us.

When confronted with any evil, we will always wonder why God is permitting it. We must not leap to the unreasoned conclusion that permitting it means he approves it. God hates evil. What God intends is not always what God allows. It is the difference between God's "manifest will" and his "permissive will."

The author points to a deeper reality; God not only hates evil he turns it against itself in such a way that ultimately it can serve his own purposes. The evil of the cruel torture and death of Jesus is turned back against those who perpetrated it. Like Joseph in the OT, evil is made to work for God's purposes and glory as the means by which Christ will rescue us from sin and the permanent destruction in death. Not only does God not ignore evil, he actively restrains it.

In creating humankind and empowering us as his co-sovereigns, while not making evil necessary, did make it possible. Blame him for that if you choose. But never forget the alternative: you would then be a mere robot, you would have no genuine thoughts or feelings, and no actual ability of independent, personal action.

"I believe that any time God allows any evil, he sets its limit. The nature of evil is that it feeds on itself; it mushrooms if left unchecked. It will consume all around it, then consume itself. It is the proverbial serpent swallowing its own tail."

On the thorny issue, "If God does not stop a specific evil event, doesn't this lead to the unavoidable conclusion that God is not all-powerful, and is simply too weak to stop tragedies?" The answer: not at all. God vests limited power in some of his creatures. He stays his hand in a given instance and does not intervene in the human drama.

There are chapters on heaven and hell, necessary because there is much talk today of universalism in some Christian quarters. Hell is a choice, he says. God wills no one to eternal damnation, it is always a human action which has eternal consequences either way.

Spencer is not afraid to take on some of the giants of the Christian Faith. He has an appendix on Calvinism and Predestination. It probably won't surprise you that he has little use for Calvin's predestinarian worldview. In the light of all he has written, he asks in another appendix; Why Should We Pray?

I cannot recommend this book too highly. It should be on every pastor and priest's shelf. Thoughtful lay people who are struggling with life and death issues will find it comforting in this time of COVID-19. The author lays it all out, with no holds barred. The title tells it all.

The book can be purchased at these links:

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