Book Review: Can God Be Trusted? by John G Stackhouse, Jr.

From our St Johns Library: Can God be Trusted? Faith and the challenge of evil by John G Stackhouse, Jr.

Here’s a book for people who aren’t theologians but want to “face the reality of evil with as many intellectual tools in the cupboard as they can get”. It demands more sustained attention than my usual reading, as it explores our difficulties in reconciling God’s apparent mismanagement of the unspeakably violent, unforgiving world we are experiencing today.

Stackhouse’s argument begins with the well-known conundrum:

  1. God is good
  2. God is all-powerful
  3. God allows evil

How can the third of these be true if the first two are?

What do we mean by Evil and what is it for? Categories help: natural and moral evil (individual, corporate, systemic). Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the only religions with belief in one life-time only and an afterlife, an eternal state, which depends on Judgement. Without an afterlife, other religions must find solutions to the problem of evil within this world.

Evil at times provokes more evil. Often for believers, evil challenges their trust in God; as a believer endures evil and moves past it, faith in God is confirmed and deepens. Does evil exist for any other purpose than to be destroyed? Stackhouse draws from a wide range of thinkers such as Plantinga who writes that on the whole, the evil which occurs, is for the best. On the whole, life is worth all the evils it contains; there is more good than evil.

One concept I found particularly interesting was that Adam and Eve, as fact, symbol or myth, were created innocent but without moral goodness; this requires maturity, developed by patterned moral decision-making. The possibility of evil is essential to moral maturity. Free will (not predestination) is necessary to this process.

We live in a world highly devoid of concepts of righteousness, goodness, mercy or grace, replaced by a moral order of learnedness, efficiency, precision and objectivity, according to Stackhouse. Those with a Christian faith can respond to evil in our lives when we know that God is good and all-powerful, because we know this through Jesus.
The final chapters lead us to the inevitable answer to the question in the title. Why believe? Because Christianity feels good, Christianity works, Christianity really happened and Christianity makes sense. I found these chapters easier to read and uplifting, ending a book which condenses centuries of learning in a digestible style for the determined lay person wanting to lift their understanding a notch or two.

Now to read it again!

Reviewed by Chris Carrell