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Friday, May 13, 2011

If God Is Good

If God Is Good
The book, If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn (Multnomah 2009), is one of the most interesting, challenging, and informative books I have read in a number of years.  In shorthand terms it could be categorized as an apologetic, i.e. a book that argues the accuracy of the Bible on the basis of reason.  But, that would be a very unfair and limited description of If God is Good.  It is far more than that.

It certainly starts as an apologetic, dealing with the argument of nonbelievers or skeptics that, “If God is good how could he let such awful things happen in this world?”  Alcorn identifies that argument as the number one argument of atheists and others who reject God, as to why there simply cannot be a God.  Alcorn validates this concern with this reference to a Barna [George Barna] survey…

                “A Barna poll asked, ‘If you could ask God only one question
                and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you
                ask?’  The most common response was, ‘Why is there pain and
                suffering in the world?’”

He adds this later in the same chapter…

                “German playwright Georg Büchner (1813-37) called the problem
                of evil ‘the rock of atheism.’”
Alcorn also quotes from the book by George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God…

                “If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not
                omnipotent.  If God knows there is evil and can prevent it,
                but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent.”

    Alcorn thoroughly and Biblically responds in great detail to all the arguments against God because there is evil in the world, but these are some of my favorite passages:

                “As frequently expressed, the problem of evil assumes that
                an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God cannot have
                good reasons for creating a universe in which evil and suffering
                exist.  But shouldn’t this assumption require some proof?”

                “We may not understand why a good God would allow terrible
                suffering.  But this merely establishes that if there is a God, we
                do not know everything he knows.  Why should this surprise us?”

                “Suppose that we add only one premise to the argument that God
                is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, and yet evil exists: 
                God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil.  You may
                disagree with this premise, but it does not contradict the others.”

                “We’ve all seen people say or do things that we considered
                unjustifiable.  When we later learn why they did them, everything
                may change.  The man who passed us on the freeway, honking his
                horn, was driving his injured daughter to the hospital.  Realizing he
                had compelling reasons, we say, ‘I get it now; I misjudged him.’”

                “To disprove the God of the Bible exists, someone must demonstrate
                there can be no moral justification for an all-good, all-powerful,
                and all-knowing God to allow evil.  Has this been proven?  No. 
                This doesn’t mean the question isn’t valid, only that a question is
                not the same as a proof.”

Alcorn would never argue that through human reason we can prove that there is a God.  He would acknowledge that belief in God is a matter of faith, not reason.  However, he pokes big holes in the atheists’ claims that they can prove there is no God, and in fact, makes a strong case that it takes much more faith to believe there is no God, than it does to believe there is a God.

This passage on the nature of man and the impact of this knowledge on society in general provides great understanding of the divide between those who have a Christian worldview and those who do not:

                “Some think believing in inherited sin is an invitation to view
                others and ourselves as worthless, thus justifying evil.  The
                theory holds that the more we speak of human virtue, the more
                we will respect and love one another and ourselves.”

                “In reality, since no aspect of their lives is untouched by their
                nature, evil people lack the capacity to gauge accurately the
                extent of their good or evil.  We normally commend ourselves
                and ignore our flaws.  But believing in the doctrine of inherited
                sin provides the ultimate equalizer.  Embracing it leads to humility
                and grace, prompting us to care for the needy—individuals we
                might otherwise despise.”

                “Ironically, wherever societies recognize the human capacity
                for evil, evil is restrained and goodness is exalted.  Yet whenever
                people view themselves as basically good, the greatest evils take
                place.  Denying the doctrine of inherited sin leads to elitism and
                oppression.  Why?  Partly because people who view themselves
                as good place no restrictions upon those in power.  But apart from
                checks and balances as well as moral accountability (implemented
                only when human sin is recognized), leaders inevitably become
                corrupt.  Communism under Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot provide
                classic examples.”

                “We all share a strange kinship as desperately needy sinners. 
                We fell together in Adam.  And we all benefit from the redemptive
                work of the second Adam, Christ.  While our sins may differ, we
                all need the same Redeemer.”

Alcorn continues later in the same chapter…

                “Highly educated people who disbelieve in human evil often
                believe that human government is the root of, and solution to,
                the world’s problems. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, at Harvard’s
                1978 commencement, spoke of the downward moral direction
                of American freedom:

                        “‘This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about
                        gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and
                        benevolent concept according to which man—the master
                        of the world—does not bear any evil within himself, and
                        all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems,
                        which must therefore be corrected.’”

                “Bad things do not happen to good people.  Why not?  Because
                in this world truly good people do not exist.  Although God
                created us in his image and we have great worth to him, the fact
                remains that we are fallen and corrupt, are under the Curse and
                deserve Hell.”

I won’t make that my last quotation from the book because that is the wrong place to end.  This is the right quote to end with…

                “God’s grace is greater than my sin.  But my ability to measure
                the greatness of his grace depends upon my willingness, in
                brokenness before him, to recognize the greatness of my sin.”

If God is Good is a truly amazing book.  Each one of the following chapters is worth reading and absorbing:

    I. Understanding the Problem of Evil and Suffering
    II. Understanding Evil:  Its Origins, Nature, and Consequences
    III. Problems for Non-Theists:  Moral Standards, Goodness, and Extreme Evil
    IV. Proposed Solutions to the Problem of Evil and Suffering:  Limiting
         God’s Attributes
    V.  Evil and Suffering in the Great Drama of Christ’s Redemptive Work
    VI. Divine Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice:  Accounting for
          Evil and Suffering
    VII. The Two Eternal Solutions to the Problem of Evil:  Heaven and Hell
    VIII. God’s Allowance and Restraint of Evil and Suffering
    IX. Evil and Suffering Used for God’s Glory
    X. Why Does God Allow Suffering?
    XI. Living Meaningfully in Suffering

I strongly urge you to read this book.  You will find it revealing and convincing.  My one and really only complaint with the book is that it’s too far ranging in its topics and could and should have been divided into at least two if not three smaller books.  As you can see from the chapter titles, Alcorn deals with one meaty topic after another and does an admirable job on each of them.  I just feel that it could have been more easily digested in several books instead in one nearly 500 page book.

Nevertheless, this book is a must read.

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