(Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2017) Reviewed
I was thinking about how to review this book when I heard the news of a mass murder at a Baptist church in Texas. A highly disturbed young man, known to be a rabid atheist, invaded the service and murdered a number of people, including children. As he fled the scene, he himself was shot to death.
Almost instantly, some public figures declared their hopes and prayers were with the victims and their families. And just as quickly, other public figures, including several leading Democrat politicians, responded by sneering at prayer, calling it futile (http://www.truthrevolt.org/news/celebs-gang-mock-thoughts-and-prayers-after-texas-church-massacre). I prefer not to repeat those appalling comments here. They make me angry.
But they also made me wonder how to answer them. And the big question in my mind was this.
Can human beings, by their own efforts, put a stop to such evils as this? Can we do anything about it? Can God Almighty do anything about it? And if He can—well, what has He done?
There Are Reasons
Have you ever wondered why so many people seem to ‘get away with murder,’ as some would put it, why so many terrible crimes and malicious acts and gratuitous injustices seem to pass without consequences? Don’t you sometimes feel, deep down inside, a kind of hunger for those accounts to be balanced? Don’t you occasionally long that justice will someday be done? I think there is something good in all of us that wants to see the wrongs of the world righted. (p. 157)
Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason (str.org), has a gift for explaining theology in language that everyone can understand. The Story of Reality is not about prayer; but it is very much about why there is so much evil in the world, how it got there, and what God has done and will do to heal His whole creation.
We take it as a given that we ought to pray. The Bible is full of prayers—by Abraham, by David (many of the Psalms are prayers), by Daniel, Ezra, and by Jesus Christ our Lord. It is full of exhortations to pray; and it wouldn’t be, if prayer were futile. We don’t need an apologist to tell us that.
“There are reasons for the way things are,” Koukl writes—which would include the massacre at the church. There is a reason why things like that happen. “[E]vil is not the problem for Christianity that people think it is because it is not foreign to the Story. It is central to it. It fits right in. In a certain sense, the entire Story is precisely about how the world went bad and how it gets fixed” (p. 35).
It must be understood that those who are sincere in deriding the efficacy of prayer do so because they don’t believe the Story, and it’s unlikely that anything but God’s grace will convince them otherwise. Instead of prayer, they want more laws passed—in this case, more restrictions on the ownership of firearms—new regulations drawn up, and more forceful measures to insure compliance. For healing of the hurts of the world they look not to God, but to whatever worldly resources they might command.
They don’t believe in prayer because they don’t believe the Story: “the story about how the world began, how the world ends, and everything deeply important that happens in between” (p. 21). The Story is the Bible. It provides the reader with a Christian worldview, which Koukl sums up in four words: Creation (“where everything came from”), Fall (how the world went bad), Redemption (“the way to fix what went wrong”), and Restoration (“what the world would look like once the repair takes place”) (p. 25). If you believe the Story, and in God’s nature as revealed by the Story, then prayer is a natural response that makes perfect sense. There’s no point in praying if you don’t believe that the Story told by the Bible is absolutely true.
But this book is for people who are not so sure: who may have thought of themselves as Christians, but find their emotions and their faith shaken by events. We have all been there at some point in our lives.
Rushdoony on Prayer
It’s hard to pray, maybe impossible, if you don’t believe the Story; and if you wish to know the Story, and understand it, habitual Bible-reading is indispensable. The Bible is God’s Word. It is the supreme authority. And teachers, commentators, and scholars come in to help us understand what we read.
R.J. Rushdoony, for instance, provides a meaty discussion of prayer in Vol. 2 of his Systematic Theology,
“[M]y concern is the prayer that is most basic, our talking to God. By this I mean our one-sentence prayers all day long, by which we silently but continually communicate with God. We thank Him for our night’s rest and the day’s joys. When we face a difficult situation, we ask, ‘Lord, give me patience to cope with this problem.’ Then, later, we thank Him for His guiding hand and care … When we are afraid of something confronting us, we tell God so, and we ask for courage to cope with the problem or hurt. But this is only the beginning.”1
Rushdoony’s chapter on prayer also reviews what the Bible has to say about prayer. I mention it to recommend the book, because we started this review by asking about the efficacy of prayer—a topic not explicitly discussed in Koukl’s book.
What Koukl does give us is a concise, readable model of a Christian worldview, based on the content of the Bible, that makes prayer to the God of the Bible a natural response. For prayer, as Rushdoony explained, is simply the believer’s conversation with the God who created him, loves him, and has a place for him in His house (John 14:2).
“[I]f we walk and talk with God every hour of every day,” Rushdoony wrote, “we can’t help but grow close to Him. We breathe easier and talk more easily and talk more around someone we love and delight in. Likewise, we pray more easily and are more alive when we maintain a continual conversation with the Lord—talking with Him and walking with Him all day long.”2
Because God Is Good
So why is there evil in the world, in the first place? Couldn’t God have created a world without evil? And if He could have, why didn’t He? Did He have compelling reasons for allowing evil to exist? Given the horrific magnitude of human evil, what could those reasons possibly have been? If God is truly all-righteous, all-loving, and all-powerful, how could He permit this?
God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save it, to take away its sins. How did Jesus do that? Why, some two thousand years later, is the world so full of evil? Was Jesus truly an effective remedy?
These are the questions Koukl tackles in his book, and he finds the answers where they have always been, in the Bible. He does it in under two hundred pages, in just five chapters: God; Man; Jesus; Cross; and Resurrection. It’s quite an achievement.
We haven’t the space to give you all these answers, or even one in its entirety. The questions are not easy questions, so the answers can’t be easy, either. It seems best to me just to give the reader a taste from Koukl’s table. On the subject of human evil, for instance:
Precisely because God is good he made a creature that could go bad. And there is no other way around it. No freedom, no growth in goodness. No growth in goodness, no growth in happiness…
…Since moral freedom just is the possibility of doing good and evil, removing the possibility would remove the freedom. It would be impossible for God to create man with genuine moral liberty without any possibility that man would use it for ill … God’s goodness made possible a world that could have badness …” (pp. 92–93) And, “Because of sin—man’s sin, our sin—the world is no longer the way it is supposed to be … Our world is exactly the kind of world we’d expect it to be if the Story were true and not just religious wishful thinking (p. 95).
Certainly there is more to it than that—but again, this has only been a taste.
Koukl guides the reader through the Story. First, the nature and attributes of God, as revealed in Scripture, dealing with the world’s arguments against God’s goodness, His omnipotence, and even His existence.
Second, the nature of man as a creature created by God, in His image, to share in His goodness and His happiness—but certainly not a god himself: more than animal, but less than God. Man’s sin, his abuse of his God-given freedom, has tainted all Creation—and how God can repair the damage, yet still preserve man’s moral freedom.
Third, Jesus, and the reality that He was truly God’s Son the Word made flesh: “You see, Jesus was not crucified for what he did. He was crucified for who he said he was” (p. 109).
Fourth, the Cross. There is a bill to be paid for human evil, a punishment which God’s righteousness requires Him to exact. But because all of us are sinners, all guilty, the bill is more than we can pay. The only one big enough, rich enough, to pay it for us, is God Himself—in the person of His Son.
When my father lay dying, he grieved for sins he’d committed in his life and could never put right. But my wife took his hand and said, “It’s all right, the bill’s been paid—all your bills have already been paid. Jesus has paid them.” And there his grieving stopped, because he believed the Story.
Fifth, the Resurrection. In the end, God will judge us all. He will collect what is owed Him. Those who believe in Jesus are forgiven debtors. Because the Son of God has paid their debt and taken their punishment for them, both God’s perfect justice and His perfect mercy have been served. The way is clear for all of Creation to be put back the way God has always meant it to be, free of evil, free of sin, and free of death. And this regeneration of it all was initiated by Christ’s rising from the dead—the first fruits of them that have eternal life.
Hope and Faith
We do need to know why there is evil in the world, and we need hope, and faith, that evil will not prevail forever: that it will indeed be punished, ultimately cast out of Creation so that it cannot hurt us anymore, and that suffering will be compensated, the damage repaired, the wounds healed.
“I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell in the earth?” (Revelation 6:9–10)
The Bible meets those needs. It answers the questions.
A book like The Story of Reality will help new Christians, and wondering Christians, to find those answers in the Bible. It’ll be a good thing to have on your bookshelf.
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), p. 1199.
2. Ibid., p. 1200.