Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: Unspeakable - Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil Review: "Unspeakable - Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil," Os Guinness, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. 242 pages.

I have had Os Guinness' books on my bookshelves before, but I had never taken the time to read them. Then I had opportunity to hear him speak at the RZIM Summer Institute in 2012 and realized I needed to start reading his work. He is a man with a brilliant mind and a great grasp of history. In "Unspeakable," Guinness takes on one of the most challenging issues we face as human beings, that of evil: it's source, its substance, its remedy. A daunting task to be sure.

It's difficult to know where to begin with this review - I can't imagine how challenging it would have been to write the book. To each of us, this subject is uniquely personal. We all have, or will, experience or witness evil and suffering in our own lives. As Guinness says: "One of the effects of globalization today is that our eyes vastly outreach our hands and our pockets. We always see more evil and suffering than we can possibly respond to."

Os builds his book around seven questions:
  1. Where on earth does evil come from?
  2. What's so right about a world so wrong? (Or "why me?" or "where's God?)
  3. Are we really worse or just modern?
  4. Do the differences make a difference?
  5. Isn't there something we can do?
  6. Why can't I know what I need to know?
  7. Isn't there any good in all this bad?
Throughout the book Guinness explores these questions through the lens of different worldviews, taking pains to respectfully share each point of view. He makes three arguments throughout the book: "that there are important differences between the various answers to evil; that these differences make a difference; and that the differences make a difference not only for individuals but for societies." 

His thoughtful and reasonable approach provides a great deal of insight into an issue which has long been discussed, but not understood. He destroys the modern myth that most evil is perpetrated by people of faith. In fact, the twentieth century was the bloodiest in the history of the world, largely due to the atheistic regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and the like. But the biggest question arising out of the discussion is number 5: "Isn't there something we can do?"

 Guinness provides three features to a biblical response to evil and suffering:
  1. There is an acknowledgement that evil resides in each of our hearts.
  2. There is a commitment to forgive the evildoer appropriately, though without condoning the evil deed. (Witness the success of this approach in post-apartheid South Africa.)
  3. The commitment to take a practical stand against evil and injustice.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The bottom line to all of this is that each of us are challenged to take a stand against evil - that begins in our own hearts. This book shares many brilliant examples of brave men and women who have dared to stand and who made a difference against evil. Let me conclude with a quote from one of the giants of the twentieth century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. "Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with lying. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his method must inevitably choose lies as his principle... The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me." (Nobel address, 1970)

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Book Review: "Why Jesus?"
Book Review: "What Good Is God?"
Where Is God When You Need Him?
If God Is Good, How Could This Happen?

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