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Coming to terms with the problem of suffering

  • Published Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at 12 a.m.

“Resurrection Year” by Sheridan Voysey (Thomas Nelson, 208 pages, $15.99)

“Appointments With Heaven” by Dr. Reggie Anderson (Tyndale, 309 pages, $15.99)

A crisis of faith often revolves around the issue of theodicy: Why does God allow bad things to happen? The question haunts people of various religious persuasions who struggle with different understandings of what God is up to. Does God allow suffering and death for some greater good? Does God set the wheels of creation in motion and simply step back so that the laws of nature, with whatever unforeseen heartaches and tragedies, run their course? Or does God mete out justice and mercy in accord with a divine plan to be revealed in the hereafter? Stories of coming to faith, as well as losing faith, abound with the theme of theodicy. How each person comes to terms with it is the drama of a life’s story.

“Resurrection Year” by Sheridan Voysey recounts how he and his wife, Merryn, committed Christians, struggled with a childless marriage. A successful journalist, radio personality and author in Australia, Voysey couldn’t understand why their heartfelt prayers couldn’t effect an answer that both had longed for. In vitro treatments and adoption attempts that continually failed were followed by years of despair. At one point Merryn says through tears: “What can you really trust God for when you ask with all your heart and you’re ignored?”

The long road to inner peace and acceptance – and no children – is the story of dogged faith in the face of seeming divine silence. Their reawakening, Voysey explains, occurred when their lives found outward not inward direction. “With Jesus, crucifixion is a mission field. Or, to put it another way, the fruit of suffering can be service.” The Voyseys’ new beginning would be their resurrection year.

For anyone struggling for answers from a Christian perspective to the silence of God in the midst of anxiety or loss, “Resurrection Year” offers an honest look at one couple’s journey from despair to renewed commitment to each other and to God.

“Appointments With Heaven” begins with a young boy’s simple faith shattered by the murder of six family members. Reggie Anderson could make no sense of it. “Why did you do this?” he shouted at God. “Why did you let this happen, God? They loved you!” Anderson’s story is about his abandoning faith to become a medical doctor, and his reawakening to it through the loving concern of his future wife, Karen.

Anderson finds part of the answer to the “why, God” question, he says, by having been given a glimpse of heaven and of the unmistakable image of Jesus. “I was truly changed. Jesus was real. God was real. And God was good!” The book goes on to recount Anderson’s experience as a small-town doctor who treats others near death who are having their own spiritual visions.

Anderson’s faith was shaken again when Maria, the 5-year-old daughter of his friend Steven Curtis Chapman, Grammy-winning Christian singer, and his wife, Mary Beth, was accidentally hit by a car and killed. Anderson wrestles with the senselessness of it but begins to understand suffering in a new way. “What was different about the way the Chapman family navigated Maria’s death was that instead of turning away from God in their grief as I had (as a boy), they turned toward him.”

“Appointments With Heaven” is an autobiographical account of a physician’s unwavering belief that the hope – and his vision – of heaven trump all earthly pain and loss. Evangelistic in his message, Anderson ponders the theodicy question and finds his own satisfying answer.

Tom Schaefer is a former columnist and religion editor for The Eagle. He lives in Wichita.

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