“I can’t image a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once” (The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves [February 1932), p. 439.
There are many books that I read once, then put back on a shelf, never giving thought to reading it again. There are books that I enjoyed so much that I read them over and over. My kids think that is weird, and I have to admit, when I was a teenager I would have thought the same thing. Then there is an occasional book that even while I’m still in the midst of reading it for the first time, I think, “I’ve got to read this again!” Those books are few and I recently finished one. D.A. Carson’s book How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, is this kind of book.This is a book that every Christian adult needs to read, and I would suggest, reread. The supreme value of the book is in its ability to lead a Christian into a deeper understanding of the God they serve.
If we live long enough, we all will encounter the dark reality of suffering and evil. When we hear of a tsunami in Asia, or an earthquake in Haiti, or a tornado in the Midwest, we may experience varying levels of emotion and identification. If we’ve lived in those places or know people or have family members who live there, we may feel a deeper connection and a deeper level of grief. We may feel a sense of outrage or righteous indignation at the news of a despotic world leader who oppresses his people, or orchestrates a genocide against the enemies of his particular group. We may wonder, “Where is God? What is he up to?”
However, when issues of health, or family, or security affect us personally, the questions of God’s character and his activity become the most real. The doctor calls with the test results. A rebellious child walks away from the family and the faith. A husband leaves a wife and small children for an attractive co-worker. A job goes to someone less qualified. A young couple is unable to have children. A church splits.
If God is the sovereign, all-powerful, creator, sustainer, and king of all creation, and if he is perfectly holy, righteous and good, why is there suffering and evil in the world? And if God is completely sovereign, are people morally accountable for their actions?
In his book, Carson argues that the most important issue that we need to come to grips with, before, we’re in the midst of these kinds of trials and afflictions, is the issue of the doctrine of God. “The mystery of providence is in the first instance not located in debates about decrees, free will, the place of Satan, and the like. It is located in the doctrine of God” (D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?, p. 193). A right understanding of who God is, and how he has revealed himself and his activity in the Scriptures, is the best way to prepare for those dark, and inevitable days.
How was Paul able to “count it all joy” and enjoin others to do the same? How are we able to be comforted in our affliction and comfort others in any affliction? How Long, O Lord take us beyond the man-centered, and ultimately empty solutions espoused today, to the only true source of hope, and peace, and joy in the midst of real pain, suffering, and grief.
— Pastor Dave