I really like Adam Hamilton’s books for one main reason: while Hamilton is not one to break much new ground, he has the gift of writing with exceptional clarity. I rarely read his work and think “I had never thought of that.” Instead, I read it and think, “I never thought to put it like that.” I have to think that this is what has made him such a successful pastor; he has the ability to take complex and controversial ideas and clearly and lovingly explain them.
I share that again here because Adam Hamilton's latest, Why? Making Sense of God's Will, has hit that mark again. In Why? Hamilton takes on one of the toughest issues of our faith, something we call theodicy, our attempt to reconcile our belief in all-loving and all-powerful God with the fact that there is still evil and suffering in the world.
This issue of theodicy is complex. Hamilton has found a way to frame the issue and open the discussion in a way that is understandable but not simplistic. He runs through four main topics in four chapters (it is a short book): Why Do the Innocent Suffer? Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered? Why Can't I See God's Will for My Life? and why God's Love Prevails.
Here are two reasons you might want to read this book: One, you are struggling with these topics in your own life. Perhaps you are struggling with things and wondering where God is in the midst of your suffering. Maybe you want to see God as loving but can't see his hand in your life right now. This book might give you some hope and direction. Two, you might not be in a place like that right now, but you do encounter people who face questions like this. This is most of us. This is why most of us should read this book: too often, when we encounter people who are facing suffering, loss and other things that make them struggle with the role of God in their lives and world, we are tempted to offer shallow, unhelpful answers. In my journey as a Christian, in the midst of loss, I have heard some of the worst, unhelpful, unbiblical, theologically tenuous words of "comfort" come from the mouths of Christians. Why? can give us some better vocabulary, or better yet, the ability to say, "I don't know."
I am sure someone will try to poke some holes in Hamilton's theology of suffering. When they do, I will try to remind them that this is not a systematic theology book. It is an attempt to take a complex topic and put it in the hands of the people who most need it. In that attempt, I believe it is a success. I am told that some group study materials to go along with the book are forthcoming. It would make a great topic for discussion in small groups and Sunday schools.
If you are around our main University campus, we have copies of Why? in The Word Store.