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Monday, July 25, 2016

"When There Are No Easy Answers" (John S. Feinberg)

TITLE: When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently About God, Suffering and Evil, and Evil
AUTHOR: John S. Feinberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (160 pages).

Another book on suffering? Do we really need people to tell us what to do when bad things happen to us? Maybe, not everyone of us will need to be reminded how suffering and evil are real. Some people choose to avoid it. Others see it as something unavoidable that can be ignored for the time being. Still, suffering can have a numbing effect as long as feelings of helplessness remain. This is not an academic book that argues about theodicy or philosophy of suffering. Neither is it like CS Lewis's A Grief Observed, D.A. Carson's How Long O Lord?, or Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament For a Son. It is a personal testimony of how Professor and Pastor John Feinberg journeys through the valley of the shadow of suffering and pain. In a book that resembles the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner's seminal bestseller about pain and suffering, Feinberg tells us about how he grapples with matters up close and personal. In 1987, his wife was diagnosed with an incurable genetically transmitted disease. At that time, distant theology and personal experience cross each other. Feinberg is not simply philosophizing or theorizing about the question of suffering. He feels it deep down inside. He wrestles with questions instead of answers. He knows what it means to be in a place where there are no easy answers.

He prefaces this book with an invitation for readers to read or re-read at a later time the points mentioned. He begins with a prelude to the problem, about his complete loss of what to do upon confirmation of his wife, Pat's Huntington Disease confirmation. At that point, intellectual answers do not cut it. Great theories or theological discourses seem most irrelevant. The problem of pain, evil, and suffering is far bigger than the intellectual domain. Even the presence of friends can be problematic, especially those who themselves are helpless to the point of erring on the unhelpful side. Some does not know what to say and avoid contact altogether. Others feel they have no profound things to say and clam up. Some fill the gaps with meaningless words where silence is preferred. Thankfully, out of this abyss of avoidance and affliction, Feinberg is able to share with us what has helped him. He chooses to focus on the truth of the goodness of God, like the reminder from his dad about learning to receive grace for today and not be distracted by what happens tomorrow. He appreciates the value of plain listening and not be quick to speak. At the same time, he encourages all to make an effort to visit the sick and see them even when one does not know what to say or do. Care can be spoken even in unspoken language. People can feel the care extended and that alone could very well bring encouragement.

Feinberg does not stop at that but proceeds to give us guidelines on what we do when we feel helpless. He shows us some merits of hiding an evil future, saying that it is more important to reveal troubles a day at a time rather than releasing a whole barrage of terrible weeks. He reflects on God's grace, suffering, and evil happening to righteous people and wrestles with the different ways of justice meted out that seem to make no sense to us. We learn how to ask questions of God and how to be prepared to receive both expected as well as unexpected answers from God. He ends by telling us the merits of wrestling with God through these tough issues of life.

Finally, the book ends with an afterword by his suffering wife, Patricia. It is written with great retrospective wisdom and testimonies of God's light of grace amid the dark times. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. The appendix is also a good reference as it contains ten ways to deal or think about afflictions.

Feinberg shows us that even when there are no easy answers, we can still learn to live with the questions. We can remain hopeful. We can remain helpful to those in need. As the popular saying goes, "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going." While it is true that it is easier said than done, it is also true that the human spirit is tougher than we think. Imagine what would happen if this human spirit is empowered by God! Surely, this world needs more hope both in good times and the not so good. Here, we have a book not of cliches but of wisdom baked in the hot atmosphere of pain and suffering. Readers can see the immense struggle of a man of faith wanting to make sense of God's grace and mercy with the reality of suffering on earth. In this case, it is the helplessness of seeing a loved one suffer. Perhaps, this is a lot more difficult than anything else: To watch someone on the sidelines helpless. Most importantly, Feinberg has provided us a reason to continue to care for people and not avoid them; to continue to make honest attempts to relate and to connect regardless of our own sense of inadequacies. For we will never know when we ourselves will be on the receiving end of such care.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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