Book Review: How Long, O Lord? (2nd edition)

How Long, O Lord?  Reflections on Suffering and Evil

Title How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (2nd edition)
Author D. A. Carson
Pages 240
Publisher Baker Academic
Year 2006
ISBN 978 0 8010 3125 0
Purchase Moore Books

This is a book about the concept of suffering. I say “concept” because this is not a counselling book, to be read by someone who has undergone intense suffering, or by someone who has to help another who has undergone such suffering. Indeed Carson states that the book is “preventative medicine” (Preface), to help a Christian set up a proper framework for thinking about suffering before it actually happens.

The book begins with a brief discussion of what not to think about God in the context of suffering—that God is not totally powerful or is totally reactive to human choices. Carson shows that these views are not only unbiblical, they also create gods that are not very comforting at all.

The book explores a number of “arbitrarily chosen” themes in relation to suffering, in two main categories: the sources of suffering (like war, disease and persecution) and biblical perspectives on suffering (like the experience of Job, the suffering Jesus and eschatology). As Carson noted, the themes were arbitrarily chosen, and I must admit that I concur. I’m not sure whether the material can be arranged in a more logical sequence.

The most interesting (and perhaps the most important) part of the book concerns what Carson calls “compatibilism”: the concept that, simultaneously, that God is totally sovereign and humans are totally responsible for their actions. While I would not subscribe to the neologism, he does show how the concept is either explicitly stated or implicitly assumed throughout Scripture. The chapters on this concept alone would make the book worthwhile.

I think the book would be helpful to Christians thinking about suffering, despite the arbitrariness of the second part. It’s better to think about these things while you are calm than when you are really pressured to ask, “how long, O Lord?”

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