Adele J. GONZALEZ, Life is Hard but God is Good: An Inquiry into Suffering. New York: Orbis Books, 2011. pp. 170. $16.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-926-0.
Reviewed by Brian M. DOYLE, Marymount University, Arlington, VA 22207

The issue of theodicy has been addressed from many perspectives and theories in the last few centuries. Gonzalez’ book examines the issues surrounding the experience of suffering in the world and searches the Christian tradition to find concepts, quotes, and images that can help the reader navigate through the experience of suffering, anger, sin, and loss.

In the Epilogue of the book, Gonzalez reflects that, “the question of the presence of suffering in a world created by a good God is as old as humanity. I knew that I probably did not have the most sophisticated answer, but I was willing to share my own journey, and the answer is found in my own struggle.” This paragraph encapsulates the approach of the book. If readers are looking for the theodicies of Irenaeus, Aquinas, Barth, and Roth in dialogue, they will be disappointed. This is not a work of theology but of spiritual reflection on experience.

The author has decades of experience as a spiritual guide, conference presenter, and person with significant pain and suffering. She uses these experiences and weaves them together, mainly through interesting narratives, to demonstrate how she has come to peace with her faith in a good God in a world of sin and suffering.

The text includes a myriad of quotes from theological/spiritual writers, Catholic documents, and the Bible. Most of the biblical interpretations are works of eisegesis with the goal of furthering the vision of life and God proffered. The author also uses a significant amount of her personal journal to guide the reader though her reflections.

The first chapter introduces the issue of theodicy and the methodology of the text. Chapter two presents the author’s image of God, understanding of the Incarnation, and the importance of believing in a God that can and does suffer. The Mystery of Evil is the title of the third chapter and discusses evil, sin, Satan, and the darkness of the world. What is lacking in this chapter in theological sophistication is redeemed with moving stories of the evils people experience. The fourth chapter looks at the relationship of anger and forgiveness, tying Gonzalez’ other works into this text. The final two chapters look at the Mystery of Suffering and the Understanding of Faith. Here Gonzalez affirms the mysterious nature of both suffering and faith but stands resolutely in her belief in a good God that is love. While not helpful in a classroom, this text could provide a helpful voice in the life of one struggling with profound suffering and the attack suffering can have upon the Christian faith in God.

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