Last week I mentioned at the end of my blog a new book written by Richard Rice and I indicated that I wanted read it as soon as possible. In the meantime I have indeed read the book and I do not regret that I started almost immediately after I received it in the mail. The title of the book indicated very clearly what the book is all about: Suffering and the Search for Meaning. The subtitle clarifies this further: Responses to the Problem of Pain.
Dr. Rice presupposes no extensive theological knowledge on the part of the reader, but he does assume that he/she has a theological interest. He writes about a topic that, through the ages, has occupied the minds of professional theologians as well as of ‘ordinary’ believers. Theologians have usually referred to this issue with the term: theodicy. On the internet I found the following succinct and helpful definition: The defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theodicy).
In this very accessible book Rice provides a survey of various approaches to this topic. (1) All suffering and misery in some way is part of God’s plan for humankind. Admittedly, we often do not understand why God would approve or allow the events that occur. But he makes no mistakes and we must trust that in his good time all things will fall into place.
(2) God is not to blame for the fact that there is so much suffering in the world. It is the result of man’s free will. God did not want robots, but created beings that would love and serve him from their own free will. God took the risk that things might turn sour, but that does not make him responsible for our wrong choices and thus for all the suffering we see in the world.
(3) We may not be able to find explanations for all the suffering that we see and experience, but we can appreciate the fact that the things that happen to us have the potential of stimulating our inner growth and helping us to mature spiritually.
(4) There is a cosmic conflict between good and evil and human beings play a role in this ongoing struggle between the powers of light and darkness. Seventh-day Adventist christians have traditionally opted for this perspective and refer to this cosmic conflict as ‘the great controversy.’
(5) The advocates of ‘open theism’ and of the so-called. ‘process-theology’ (an approach that goes beyond ‘open theism’) opt for a different kind of response. They tell us we should revise our point of departure. God is not omniscient and not all-powerful in the classical sense of those terms. God does not know exactly how we will decide to use our free will, and by taking our free will very seriously, he does not have the possibility to intervene when we make wrong decisions.
(6) And then, finally, there are those who say that every theodicy must necessarily fail. They protest against any suggestion that we may find a way of reconciling the misery in the world with the existence of an almighty and loving God.
The book by Richard Rice is of great value because it provides such a lucid survey of the various options and then deals with the strong and the weak points of each theodicy. But it receives much added value though the way in which the author also deals with the personal dimension of the problem. Human suffering is not just a philosophical and theological problem (in fact, he prefers the term ‘mystery’). Sooner or later it affects all of us very personally. Rice proposes that we might combine aspects from the various theodicies and that we might distill ‘fragments of meaning’ from the different approaches and thus find comfort and support when we are struck by personal disaster.
Richard Rice is a gifted thinker and author. He is one of the most important and most creative Adventist theologians of our time. It is therefore a pleasure to warmly recommend his newest book. Without any reservations I use this blog to promote it. It was published by a prestigious American evangelical publisher: IVP Academic. It is easy to order, in paper form or as e-book through Amazon.com—and undoubtedly also through other channels. With postage it should cost you between 15 and 20 dollar. You will find that it is money well spent.