Norman Geisler has been studying and teaching for over fifty years. His writings include topics such as apologetics, systematic theology, philosophy, Old Testament, and New Testament survey. After September 11, 2001 there was a resurgence of writings discussing the problem of evil and suffering. Nearly every year another new book concerning evil appears. The new atheists and secular humanist aggressively refute the existence of God, and the reality of the Christian faith. The problem of evil is their strongest argument.
In the introduction Geisler suggests that his book is different from all others; he affirms this in three points. The three points are these; the book is clear, concise, and comprehensive. I can agree that the book is concise and clear, but I disagree that the book is comprehensive. He does demonstrate knowledge about the subject and clearly it is a theodicy that he has developed over the years. His study and thought about the material is grounded in his extensive study and experience. He has made an excellent attempt to cooperate the existence of an omnibenevolent God with the reality of the problem of evil.
There are many books that discuss the problem of evil, and there have been many theologians and philosophers who have developed a theodicy. This book is not the best I have read on the subject, nor is it the most informative. But, I can appreciate the book for several reasons, one of which is because I could not have written it. Secondly, the book is not overly scholarly or philosophic making it easier to read. It is written in a way that will appeal to people who have little or no understanding of theodicy, a beginner’s book for potential theologians.
Throughout the book Geisler developed syllogisms for and against the existence of God as well as other arguments concerning theodicy; he explained each of them and responded to them with his biblical and rational perspective. I agreed with most of them. His headings were bold with larger font; this aspect allows the reader to locate points easily.
I recognize that Geisler is a soft-determinist because I have read a multi-view book on predestination and free will that Geisler has contributed to. There are slight differences in our theology, but this did not deter me from reading this book. I wanted to read his perspective, and will soon read many other perspectives. There is great value in reading what others think; it helps to refine one’s thinking and theology. I respect Geisler as an authority on the Bible, theology, and apologetics; he has written many books. It would be foolish to neglect a theodicy from such a respected and prolific Christian writer.
Geisler included in his theodicy a chapter discussing hell. I appreciate that he has chosen to write about hell. The idea of hell is not comfortable to think about, but as we discuss theology and theodicy we cannot avoid hell. There are those who consider hell too great a punishment and many reject God on this basis. There is no perfect theodicy, but a theodicy is best developed when hell is taken into consideration. Hell is suffering. The book included a chapter explaining inclusivism and exclusivism, these are also very important when developing a theodicy. Even though theodicy attempts to explain the reality of a benevolent God and evil, one cannot deny that there is a necessary explanation for how God relates to people in the process of our lives.
Despite Geisler’s efforts to write comprehensively he failed to develop a view on the suffering of Christ and the evil that took place at his trial and sacrifice. A theodicy is incomplete when it excludes the suffering of Christ. I believe the compassionate movement of God, and the suffering of Christ is foundational for a theodicy.
As I expected Geisler slightly contradicts himself, this happens as a result of his soft-determinism. He wants to avoid blaming God as the source for evil; in fact he does this by attributing suffering to the fall of Satan and man. Yet, he also writes, “God has a good purpose for everything He does or permits. Hence we know for sure that there is a good purpose for all suffering – including the apparently unjust or innocent kinds.” (P49) Geisler is advocating a greater good theodicy, a theodicy, that at the moment I am unwilling to accept, as it is currently defined. He also suggests that all of God’s creation was perfect at the moment of creation. This claim I refute based upon the reality that God is the only Perfect Being. Perfection is one attribute that God did not share when He created man in His own image. This may be a matter of semantics, however I affirm what Scriptures say about God’s creation of man, very good.
As I begin the development of my own theodicy I am encouraged to see that even scholars neglect some necessary truths. Books are tools in my toolbox; I am blessed with another tool. Overall this book is a great resource; even though Geisler and I differ in some areas I also recognize that I have much to learn. As I consider what others write my own views are challenged. It was refreshing to read a book that did not include so much philosophical and theological jargon. Many authors write their theodicy in a complicated manner and as a result I am mentally exhausted. I did not feel overwhelmed as I read Geisler’s book, and I am glad that he simplified the material in such a way that one does not have to be a scholar to understand the material.
Geisler, Norman L. If God, Why Evil? Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2011.