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Why? The Challenge of Giving Explanations for Tragic Experiences in Life

Zeus Publications, 2010
RRP $31.95 (online $26.95)

Reviewed by Jim Page, a member of Indooroopilly Uniting Church.

Ray Barraclough is a respected New Testament theologian and his most recent book Why? is a foray into the world of what systematic theologians used to call the problem of theodicy – explaining the ways of God to humankind.

In particular, Dr Barraclough is interested in the perennial question of why God allows suffering.

The book suggests that, in response to the experience of suffering, we can either ask “who” questions, that is, who allowed certain events to happen or who is at fault, and “what” questions, that is, what circumstances allowed certain events to happen.

Dr Barraclough suggests that, generally, the latter type of questioning is the more productive.

The first half of the book concentrates looks at specific examples of suffering, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, illnesses such as epilepsy, and the death of loved ones.

The second half of the book surveys some influential religious writers and theologians on the issue of suffering, namely, Harold Kushner, Philip Yancey, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jon Sobrino.

Dr Barraclough criticizes the way that simplistic fundamentalist notions of suffering can be insulting to those experiencing suffering.

What resonated most strongly with me was the emphasis on the biblical notion of lament – that we can protest suffering and even call God to account over suffering and injustice.

Why? asserts that there are, ultimately, no easy answers to the problem of suffering.

However Dr Barraclough does provide some insights into what is a dignified and humane approach to suffering, especially from a religious perspective, and in this regard this is a highly worthwhile book.