The empty tomb is stunning, transcendent – also hard to imagine – not impossible. The death and anguish of Good Friday? Not hard. Suffering and death we GET – though that doesn’t mean we don’t ask why. It seems a good time to share a post by Dr. Todd Jones, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, on What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering and The Crisis of Faith, by Thomas Long. Todd told me about it a while ago, a book that “addresses a subject every thinking person who ever lives asks, and one that both people of faith, and people with no faith ponder: Why do people suffer? How can God be all powerful and loving, and allow the kind of horrible evil and suffering that happens in our world? How do you live with evil and suffering and still maintain a meaningful faith?”
Thomas G. Long, one of our nation’s finest preachers, has taught homiletics for over three decades, and as he recently retired from Emory University, offered a very important book on what Christian faith has to say in the face of evil and human suffering.
Long begins this readable story on November 1, 1755, All Saints Day, as the day that the modern world began. A devastating earthquake hit Lisbon, Portugal at 9:40 that morning, with churches everywhere in that city filled with worshipers. The level of destruction raised all kinds of questions about how a God who was all powerful and all loving could permit such a tragedy. Long contends that up until this event, belief in God in the Western world was axiomatic. After it, God became but one possibility among many for a society that up until then was completely shaped by the Church.
Tom Long invites leading critics of Christian faith to speak in this book, and gives a fair hearing to those whom some call “the new atheists.” English novelist Julian Barnes says, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” Long enters into a lively conversation with Christian faith’s most severe critics, and provides his readers with a compelling and winsome view of how a thoughtful, literate, intellectually responsible Christian faith can still speak to our age. Long is a fair critic of so-called Christian thought that cannot stand up to the questions that evil and suffering inevitably and importantly raise before God. Long’s theology is always in conversation with the Bible, yet he also draws upon the best of the tradition, proving again that good theology is “faith seeking understanding,” and never narrow or closed to intellectual rigor.
The best part of Long’s book is an extended sermon he offers on Matthew 13, Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat. In the parable, the owner sows good seed, but “an enemy” introduces weeds. The source of evil and suffering in this world is always mysterious in origin, and an enemy to the God of love. Christian faith never offers us a God who uses force to build and control this world, but rather one whose suffering, sacrificial love promises to redeem all human sorrow, and to overcome evil with good. This is a book worth reading for anyone who wants to find help and meaning in the midst of sorrow and suffering.
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Image of crown of thorns: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_ricardoreitmeyer’>ricardoreitmeyer / 123RF Stock Photo</a>