Why God Allows Us to Suffer provides a bold and wholly unique answer to the most vexing theological question facing Christianity. In contrast to most contemporary books on the problem of pain–which typically focus on the free will argument and other stale, hopelessly inadequate doctrines–Why God Allows Us to Suffer begins with the premise that the primary purpose of our existence is to know and experience love. It then examines the prerequisites of love in order to explain why God constructed the material universe in the manner he did, and why he acquiesced to the introduction of pain and suffering into the universe when his creatures chose to pursue selfish ends at the expense of love. The result is that, for the first time ever, the problem of pain is answered in a comprehensive manner that is fully consistent with the Bible.
Though free will rightly belongs at the center of some theological discussions, in the context of the problem of pain the real importance of free will is that it serves as a prerequisite for love.
By neglecting to identify and examine all of the prerequisites of love, thinkers have failed to recognize that once man has sinned, God cannot abolish man’s experience of pain unless God either compromises his own absolute justice, which he will not do, or destroys man himself, man’s free will, or man’s power to truly affect other beings through his decision-making. Since each of these is an essential precondition for humanity to experience love, God cannot abolish any of them without simultaneously erasing man’s ability to experience love. This, ultimately, is one of the keys to answering the problem of pain.
While I baulk at the suggestion that any one book holds the definitive answer to a question as deep as why God allows us to suffer, this book has given me plenty to think about. It is the kind of book that is probably best digested in small bites, and no doubt I will come back to it more than once before I will feel as though I have processed and evaluated everything it has to offer, but this is not because it presents a new answer to the question of why God allows us to suffer so much as because it puts that answer in a broader perspective.
When it comes down to it, suffering exists because (a) God has given us free will; and (b) in exercising that free will, sin entered the world. This book does not deny that, despite any initial impression it may give to the contrary. What it does do is take a logical approach to considering why a loving God would grant us free will, knowing that it would result in humans both causing and experiencing suffering. It also discusses how the material world God created contributes to and enhances our ability to know and experience love.
When considering why God allows suffering, many people frame the question thus: ‘If God is all powerful, all loving, and all knowing, why would He allow us to suffer?’ Tewes argues that this is a restrictive view of God, and identifies four characteristics that need to be considered: God is all powerful, all loving, all wise, and all just. To the assertion that God is all wise, he adds the following: ‘In His wisdom, God ranks love over all other considerations.’
This qualifier is based on Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, that the greatest of God’s commandments is the commandment to love – first God, and then your neighbour – and it is followed up by Tewes’ observation that friendship and love are the greatest source of human happiness. I’m not sure that I am prepared to agree on these points without a great deal more consideration. My understanding is that we are created, first and foremost, to glorify God, and our greatest happiness comes from being in a right relationship with Him, but Tewes seems to overlook this and focus entirely on earthly relationships.
Tewes devotes a chapter each to the four characteristics he has identified (or three chapters, in the case of ‘all loving’) and posits that the following conditions need to be present for love to be experienced:
1. There must be at least two independent beings;
2. They must have the power to affect one another through their actions (either for good or ill);
3. They must have free will;
4. They must place faith in one another to treat each other with kindness; and
5. They must care enough about the welfare of the other person to willingly and selflessly refrain from pursuing personal desires or objectives that can only be attained at the expense of the other being.
I question the inclusion of number four in this list, which seems to presuppose that love can only be experienced in a reciprocal relationship. I would think that, items one to three being the case, one person can cause another to experience love without there having been any expectation on the second person’s part; indeed, even if there was an expectation of the opposite. Otherwise, how is it possible to love our enemies?
From here, the discussion turns to considering what an ‘all just’ God’s response should be when condition number five is not lived out; in other words, when humans prioritize selfish ends over love. Limiting free will or our ability to affect one another will also limit our ability to experience love, according to Tewes, and there is certainly truth in his claim that our greatest ability to experience love often comes in the times of greatest pain or suffering. But a God who is all just cannot allow sin to go unpunished and, in lieu of destroying mankind, Tewes writes, “We suffer both the natural consequences and the rightful punishment for rejecting love in order that we might also continue to experience love.”
Tewes’ final discussion point for why God allows us to suffer was one that I had not considered so explicitly before, and that is that we suffer in imitation of Christ. Tewes writes, “Just as Christ suffered the injustice of humanity’s sin for the sake of allowing us the opportunity to enter into a full and loving relationship with God following our earthly life, we endure the massive injustice imposed on us by the misdeeds of others for the sake of allowing them, and us, the continued opportunity to experience love during this life.”
I wonder at Tewes’ expression ‘the massive injustice’ when he has previously made the argument that our suffering is ‘rightful punishment for rejecting love’. And it wasn’t the only time when I wondered whether Tewes had perhaps not chosen his words with as much care as he should have.
The other thing that was missing from this discussion was the way in which sin affects the physical world. Despite initially recognizing the misuse of free will does not make sense of other forms of suffering (such as natural disasters and disease), Tewes’ arguments did not seem to address these forms of suffering either.
This is definitely not a light read, but it is thought-provoking. I’m not sure that I agree that the failure to understand the central role of love in Creation and the requirements that are necessary for love to exist are the most important reasons why thinkers have struggled to answer the problem of pain; I believe our inability to recognise the seriousness of sin and its impact on all of creation has to be at least as important. However, even if I do not come to agree with all of the writer’s conclusions, this book will have played a part in clarifying my thoughts on the subject.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 4 March 2015
Publisher: Triune Publisher Group, LLC
Author’s website: http://why-god-allows-us-to-suffer.com/