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God’s self-restraint

07 April 2017

Robin Gill considers a perennial argument about suffering

Suffering: If God exists, why doesn’t he stop it?

John Morris

Circle Books £5.99


Church Times Bookshop £5.40


THE implicit answer to the question in the title of this short, lively, and accessible book is: “Because human suffering is an inevitable part of an evolving world that has the capacity to produce human free-will and moral virtue.”

To get there, Dr Morris taps into those scientists, ranging from quantum physicists to cosmologists, who argue that evolution involves a tension between order and chaos to produce mutations that are fruitful for humankind (alongside, inevit­ably, other mutations that are not). Earthquakes and tsunamis, for example, are essential to earth-crust formation even though on occasions they can devastate city populations. A God who intervened constantly in this essential process would finally not be a loving God.

There is nothing especially new about this “resolution” of the problem of unwarranted suffering, but it is expressed in pithy ways by this Anglican priest and former teacher and tempered by his having a much loved but very severely incapacitated grandchild.

This, for example, is how he ridicules the notion of an overly interventionist God (as religious fundamentalists and dogmatic atheists alike require): “Were he to do everything for us and rescue us from each impending disaster, we would have smaller brains and remain immature children. There is no way round it: a loving parent-Father has to restrain himself and let his ‘baby’ of virtue climb onto its own two wobbly feet!”

This will make an excellent, thought-provoking book for a study-group. But it misses some points. Tom McLeish’s wonderful Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP, 2014) would have helped to bolster his arguments about order and chaos in both science and the Bible.

He could have explored the more novel idea that dogmatic atheists tend to make unscientific claims about the problem of unwarranted suffering. And his biblical exegesis is sometimes uncritical. Yet the 20 famous people (no fewer) that he has persuaded to endorse his book are basically right: this is a good read.


The Revd Professor Robin Gill is Editor of Theology.

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