The existence of suffering, of evil, of hardship and sin in the world whilst the bible claims that there is a sovereign and loving God, is something that just about every Christian, or anyone looking for God, will struggle with. Scott Petty acknowledges this, and like the blurb, and the “Little Black Books” tag-line says, this book “gets straight to the point”.
Petty writes in a way that is personable and easy to read; this isn’t a tome about complex theological speculation, or comparing highly academic arguments. It’s a short, direct look at how we can understand suffering, how it links to evil, and what that means for us, and for God.
I liked the way the book was split into three sections. With a strong focus on the story of Job (the classic example of a Godly man going through inexplicable suffering, and staying faithful to God), Petty deals with Suffering, then Evil, and then how we should see God amidst all of this.
Witty in places, and drawing on examples from pop culture, music, technology and personal life experience, Petty has written in a way that young readers in particular will find easy to engage with. Only a short read, it doesn’t expound upon every mention of suffering in the bible, or even explore much of the teaching that we see about it. Whilst I felt there could have been more of a focus on Jesus and Paul’s teachings about suffering in an explicitly Christian sense (it seemed that a key element that was missing was the concept of suffering for the gospel), this book was surprisingly comprehensive in the way it debunks popular misconceptions, and addresses some big questions.
The thing that really makes this book interesting is that it doesn’t exist in the heady, often confusing headspace of theory, but draws theology out, and links biblical truths, which can often seem distant or hard to apply, in to the here and now.
The combination of suffering and evil into the same book made a lot of sense to me; too often we see people trying to isolate evil, temptation and the influence of Satan, from the concept of suffering. Whilst I felt that there was definitely room for more exploration of the influence of Satan, and the “spiritual” evils that are seen and warned against, particularly in the New Testament (i.e. demonic influence and possession, spiritual warfare, the “reign” of Satan in revelation), the emphasis is strong and simple; God is powerful. In response, Petty challenges us, from Job, with what that means for our response to hardship and evil.
Petty, whilst leaving a lot of room for more exploration, definitely addresses the questions of why there is suffering and evil allowed. He looks at questions of whether suffering can lead to better outcomes, of whether things are always as they seem to us, and whether we can ever really understand God’s power and sovereignty.
The “Little Black Books” edition addressing suffering and evil is definitely a good way for people, particularly youths, to get a good overview of the questions around suffering and evil in this world. It’s strength lies in the fact that it is direct, it is easy to engage with, and it is short, therefore making it a great resource for those who are questioning, and don’t know where to start.
Petty really brings the book home, with a focus on who God is, and what that means. Petty doesn’t attempt to justify or explain away every instance of suffering, evil or hardship. But he definitely leaves us with a challenge to consider how we should see suffering, how we should respond to it, and what our attitude towards, and relationship with God should be as a result.
As far as uses go, this book would be very handy for youth groups or leaders to have access to. It’s written at a level, and with references, that youth will engage with. At a time when young people are starting to ask questions about why things are the way they are, this could be used to show what the bible says about suffering, and a Christian attitude towards it.
The book can be found at the Matthias Media store; http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/little-black-books-suffering .