Unspeakable Themes
by Os Guinness

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Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

After reviewing the different explanations for evil and suffering offered by the Eastern and secularist traditions, Guinness turns his attention to the answers provided by the third modern family of faith, the Judeo-Christian. Highlighting Saint Augustine’s formulation of the trilemma (If God is both all-good and all-powerful, how can evil and suffering exist?), Guinness reviews three principal reassurances that a biblical worldview offers to a modern world beset by evil. First, “the world should have been otherwise.” The essence of the story of the Creation and the Fall is that sin and evil are an intrusion into the world, not a natural fact of human existence, as in the Eastern or secularist worldview. Second, as Guinness asserts from his own Christian perspective, “no other god has wounds.” Here, the cross serves as the most eloquent testimony possible of a God who chooses to share in the fullness of human suffering. For Guinness and all who share his faith, “the crucifixion of Jesus is the supreme pattern of innocent suffering in history.” Third, Guinness calls on his readers to recognize that “the resistance leader knows what he is doing and victory day is coming.” For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the resistance leader with the plan of salvation and the promise of eternal rest.

According to Guinness, the biblical response to evil and suffering consists of three profound attitudes. First, a biblical perspective requires us to acknowledge that evil resides in each of our hearts. Guinness singles out both American exceptionalism, the attitude that the United States in its so-called defense of freedom around the world can do no wrong, a common theme of American evangelicals, and utopianism, as manifested in the secular insistence on the perfectability of humankind, as twin lies that deny the reality of evil in our world. Second, the biblical worldview entails “a commitment to forgive the evildoer appropriately, though without ever condoning the evil deed.” For Guinness, the attitude of forgiveness performs a dual function, freeing the past for both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven, as well as freeing the future and thus ever re-creating the possibility of renewal and a new beginning. Finally, with a host of examples of the actions of people of faith, Guinness emphasizes the biblical approach’s ongoing commitment to reform.