book report: "If God, why evil?" by Geisler (2011)


Norman Geisler has written a short book on theodicy, as if that were possible. I read this over two days in 4 hours or so. Theodicy, is the philosophical area dealing with the problem of evil. Does the existence of evil disprove the existence of God, or God as described in orthodox Christianity, a perfect, all knowing, all powerful, all present, always good God? In order to keep it short, Geisler returns to the form of syllogisms repeatedly. The very first syllogism he discusses is this,
  1. God created all things
  2. Evil is something
  3. Therefore, God created evil. p.17-18

this is then solved by discussing whether evil is a "thing." The response syllogism then follows,
  1. God created all things.
  2. Evil is not a thing.
  3. Hence God did not create evil. p.19

but, there is not much room for nuance when dealing primarily in syllogisms. Certainly, there is discussion, but sometimes not enough. His metaphor of God as author, but not responsible for his characters evil actions was incomplete and unsatisfactory. Also, his discussion of physical evil needed expansion. I didn't feel he dealt with the topic sufficiently. But I am not unhappy with this book. I really appreciate the succinctness of the chapters. It was these few times when I wish he had expanded more.

His chapter on Miracles and Evil was especially helpful. If God can intervene whenever he wants, why doesn't he? Geisler shows that God does intervene whenever he wants, which is rarely whenever I want. But I am unable to know, with my limited knowledge, how often God should intervene in the world, for his ultimate purposes, which may not coincide with my own purposes.

His last two chapters deal with hell. I thought these were helpful. He breaks the discussion down by common objections to hell. In the section on the objection to eternal damnation for temporal offenses he concludes,
Finally, if Christ's temporal punishment is sufficient for our sins eternally, there is no reason why eternal suffering cannot be appropriate for our temporal sins. It is not the duration of the action but the object that is important. Christ satisfied the eternal God by his temporal suffering (1 John 2:1-2), and unbelievers have defied the eternal God by their temporal sins. p.110
In the next objection, whether hell has redeeming value, Geisler's severe brevity made me wince.
Everyone is either actively or passively useful to God. In heaven believers will be actively useful in praising His mercy. In hell unbelievers will be passively useful in bringing majesty to God's justice. As Edwards put it, just as a barren tree is useful only for firewood, so disobedient people are only ful for an eternal fire (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2.126). Since unbelievers prefer to keep at a distance from God in time, why should we not expect this to be their chosen state in eternity? p.111
I get a kick out of fully Arminian Geisler referencing fully Calvinist Edwards, but I also feel awful for an unbeliever reading this and being compared to firewood for hell. I would have spent more time writing in a way that makes the call to repentance and to a relationship with Jesus more attractive than avoiding becoming incendiary material.

He includes three appendices in the book. One was really good, Evidence for the Existence of God, and one seemed artificial in its inclusion. It is a critique of the bestseller, The Shack, ostensibly because of it's theodicy. However, Geisler is writing on a timeless theme and the Shack has already begun to fade from the popular mindset. I would of preferred Geisler fill the book with some expansion of the sub-topics of theodicy. However, this is an excellent contribution to the Christian library, especially for someone looking for quick explanations of hard topics.

Bethany House sent me this copy free for review. They are looking for more book reviewers, so sign up if interested.
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