Published by Moody Publishers on July 28, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
Buy on Amazon
Where is God When We Suffer?
God’s silence in the midst of human suffering is a great mystery of our existence. Faced with mass suffering, such as pandemics, plagues, and natural disasters, we may wonder whether God actually cares about us or whether He just says that He does.
Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What is God Saying to Us? helps explain the role of God in suffering. Dr. Erwin Lutzer examines how God uses tragedies throughout the Bible to speak to His people, and that, ultimately, God always has our well-being in mind even when He doesn’t relieve our immediate pain. Perhaps most importantly, find lasting joy and relief by learning how times of such widespread trouble reveal God’s ultimate plans for our salvation from all temporary and eternal suffering.
I pretty much checked out of this book after chapter one. With a title like Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters, you’d think Erwin W. Lutzer’s introductory chapter “The Crisis That Changed Everything” would focus on the health crisis as part of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Lutzer immediately pivots to the economic challenges the pandemic created and even manages to throw in a jab about how liquor stores were considered “essential businesses” while other stores were not. (Note: in food deserts, liquor stores are sometimes the only available grocery options for the poor.) There is a derision against “science” which he claims is what declared some places should stay open and others could not. There is thinly-veiled contempt for governments that mandating closures without recognizing that these mandates saved lives.
In a section specifically dedicating to acknowledging the need to grieve, Lutzer doesn’t even name COVID-19 by name, but specifically mentions tornadoes, hurricanes, and locust plagues. It’s a hostile and combative beginning to a book that’s needs to be way more pastoral in its tone. Lutzer’s dismissal of COVID-19—the alleged impetus behind this book—makes Lutzer’s purposes seem rather exploitative.
Once one gets into the actual content, Lutzer settles in somewhat. He correctly makes the point that “these unprecedented times” aren’t quite that and that believers have been here before. He looks back into church history to see how ancient believers have written about past plagues, though he doesn’t really engage with their work to see how they responded to those plagues.
He talks about the silence of God—where is God in the face of all this natural evil?—and encourages believers to persevere and learn from their current situation. He goes through a number of Scriptural narratives and pulls out instructive threads to help us understand how to live through a crisis. He reminds us that we live in a fallen and broken world that is under judgment and how this should lead to our longing for ultimate redemption. He encourages us to persevere and move onward through the pandemic and figure out how we can best reflect Christ in these trying times.
None of this is inherently bad, but it does feel a bit generic. Like most COVID books, Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters was hastily thrown together and, in part, draws from the author’s previous work. Lutzer specifically mentions that material from Where Was God? was adapted into this book. That’s fine, but the end result is that the book can feel very disjointed. Parts are COVID heavy, parts are absent of it at all. The COVID theme—ostensibly the overriding theme—is not blended well into the book.
For a better perspective, I’d recommend Virus as a Summons to Faith by Walter Brueggemann or God and the Pandemic by N.T. Wright.