Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Pain. By Richard Rice. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 170 pp. Paperback, $20.00.
This book is about how you can respond to real suffering, to “a sense of loss so huge and irreparable that the mind balks at taking its measure” (p. 137). Richard Rice was asked to teach a class on the subject of suffering to health care professionals at different stages of training. This forced Rice to treat the philosophical and theological issues surrounding God and suffering in a popular way, for people who were not trained theologians or philosophers, but who nevertheless faced the most tragic kinds of human suffering on a daily basis. This unique background was very beneficial to this book.
In Suffering and the Search for Meaning, asks two questions: What kind of world did God create? And what kind of God created the world?
Rice surveys some of the most important theodicies (attempts to reconcile God with the reality of evil and suffering). His writing is clear. Each view is presented in an objective and balanced way. He summarizes the key points from the key thinkers of it position (e.g., Calvin, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Hick, Charles Hartshorne), offers key Biblical verses in support of each; explains why people find the view comforting; and then offers some objections.
The theodicies he presented are: Perfect Plan Theodicy (e.g., God decrees suffering as part of His plan); the Free-Will Defense (God permits suffering); Soul Making (suffering is necessary for moral and spiritual growth); Cosmic Conflict (Satan and God are in battle, and suffering comes as a consequence of war); Open Theism (like the Free-Will defense, but with an open future); Finite God (the god of Process Theology cannot stop suffering because he cannot suspend natural laws); and Protest Theodicy (suffering makes it impossible to believe in God).
Rice suggests that many readers will find elements of many different views to be helpful. A practical theodicy “brings together fragments from different, sometimes widely scattered sources and applies them to pressing personal needs” (p. 141).
The book ends with Rice explaining some of the elements of his own practical theodicy, and the theological commitments that gave it shape—such as the cross and resurrection of Jesus (p. 147)—with some suggestions as to how the reader may develop their own personal theodicy.
The strength of this book is that it accurately, and simply, summarizes the major philosophical arguments for reconciling the existence of God and suffering.
The weakness of this book is that the Biblical evidence is casually proof-texted, and not explored in any depth.
This book would be very useful to college students and pastors who want to understand the major philosophical responses to suffering. It would also be ideal for a small-group setting, to help people think through these issues.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society