Larry Waters & Roy Zuck eds., Why O God?: Suffering and Disability, in The Bible and The Church. Wheaton: Crossway, July, 2011. 336 pp. Paperback, $22.00.
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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
This week in our reading group, we’re covering the chapters in John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God about the problem of evil. After explaining the logical basis of the problem of evil, Frame switches to a pastoral tone and observes:
Such is the philosopher’s way of looking at the problem. But the essence of it is a concern to non-philosophers as well. Who of us has not cried out, “Why, Lord?” when beset by the tragedy of our experience? We simply feel a terrible discrepancy between our experience and what we believe God to be.
Frame goes on to conclude, “That ‘Why Lord?’ says everything that the philosophical argument says and more,” and that “this problem is perhaps the most serious and cogent objection to Christian theism.”
I doubt many would disagree with Frame’s sentiment. In that light, while not providing all the answers, Why, God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and Church is certainly a great resource for those struggling with not only occasional “Why God?” moments but those living through “Why God?” lifestyles as well.
The book is a collection of essays edited by Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck, the basis of which is a class that is offered at Dallas Seminary. While I didn’t take the class while I was there, I know several of the contributors personally, having had them as professors in other classes, and in one case as a thesis adviser. Through reading this book, among other things, I discovered that the former admissions co-ordinator at the school, a man I never saw not smiling, spent his time off campus attentively caring for his wife who had been bed-ridden for numerous years with multiple sclerosis.
Personal revelations like this throughout the book help to add weight to the authors’ insights, rather than just seeming like abstract speculations about how to deal with suffering. Starting in the opening chapter, Joni Eareckson Tada’s really sets the tone when she says:
People’s disabilities can be the best embodiment of these marvelous truths from God’s Word. Disability ministry is a ministry of redemption. If the cross can be seen not as a symbol of torture but as a symbol of hope and life, then a wheelchair can be “redeemed” from a symbol of confinement to a representation of an intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ (p. 20).
Much of what follows in Why O God? substantiates this statement, and the rest of the first part covers general information regarding the extent of disabilities within the church, and therefore the need for churches to have a disability ministry.
The second section of the book then turns to cover the biblical foundations for suffering and moves section by section through Scripture. Individual chapters cover suffering in the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, Job, Psalms and the rest of the Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts and the Pauline epistles, the non-Pauline epistles, and finally the book of Revelation. By presenting the material this way, the reader is given a very robust biblical theology of suffering.
In the third section, the focus shifts toward more pastoral applications. The first essay I particularly enjoyed, possibly because it was by my thesis adviser, Dr. Doug Blount, or because it was a good philosophical treatment of the problem of evil with heavy reference to the book of Job. It is also incidentally, Dr. Blount’s pocket chapel message, and I’ve heard him share it at least twice. The other two essays in this section are focused on how to pastorally care for those with disabilities and an eye opening global perspective on suffering and the Christian church. There could have been more material included in this section, and perhaps if there are future editions of this book, this would be the place to flesh further pastoral applications.
The final full section (the last section is a lone essay by Tada) goes into even more detail concerning counseling issues that arise in caring for those with disabilities. After an essay on ministering to adults with disabilities, there is a follow up tailored to caring for children, an exploration of some of the ethical issues related to caring for the suffering, and finally some insight into confronting death and dying and caring for those with lost loved ones. The book then comes to an end with the aforementioned essay by Tada.
Overall, this is a resource that belongs on every pastor’s shelf, but is written in such a way that anyone dealing with disabilities or perpetually asking “Why God?” will find comfort through the sound biblical teaching. Because such a wide range of topics are covered, most people won’t necessarily want to read it cover from cover. Everyone will definitely benefit from reading and absorbing the biblical theology of suffering that spans the entire second section of the book. In addition, those who are engaged in ministry (which is technically everybody, but I mean those in explicit pastoral ministry) will find the chapters on counseling especially helpful.
By putting this class together, Dallas Seminary filled a much needed gap in their curriculum by providing detailed biblical teaching and pastoral guidance for how to pastor people through suffering. By publishing this book through Crossway, much of that teaching is now available to the general public, and hopefully many of you will look into getting a copy of this book for yourself.