Painful Questions:
Facing Struggles with Faith

, by Gary L. Watts, Herald Press, 1999, 240 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

In this highly readable book, Gary L. Watts tackles the enduring questions related to the problem of pain and evil in our world. In the tradition of C. S. Lewis, Watts uses personal and particular illustrations to illustrate the universal issues he is discussing. Caught between the world we have and the world we want, Watts argues, we are left to work at putting together the pieces of a puzzle that can never be fully completed. In that sense he is realistic, not giving readers hope that he can direct them to the final answer for this perplexing theological and philosophical problem.

Watts divides his reflections on the eternal question of “Why Me?” into three sections. First he says this is a fact-finding question that requires faith to keep looking for puzzle pieces. He suggests that suffering is a necessary companion to freedom. Our choices often make us complicit in much of the suffering around us. Broken relationships with others and God increase suffering. Pain can act as a warning sign, build character and in some cases lead to joy. But he readily admits that not all suffering can be explained in such ways.

Secondly, Watts says that the “Why me?” question seeks a venue in which to be heard and to find some measure of hope – it is a fact-stating question. Sufferers demand the dignity of being taken seriously, not dismissed with simplistic, ready-made answers. They want others to agree that their suffering is not fair. Such “ranting”, suggests Watts, demonstrates hope in a world as it “ought to be” but isn’t. And it is this unquenchable human hope for justice that pushes us toward the notion that one day God will even the score. The hope of heaven, he says, should never be used as a glib response to real and immediate suffering, but it does allow hope to flourish nonetheless.

In his final section, Watts suggests that the “Why me?” question can be turned into a search for how to live and respond within the context of an unfinished puzzle – it is a fact-changing question. In many cases good can come from evil especially if we work with God to allow it to happen. Getting involved in a hurting world – relieving pain where we are able – will lessen the intensity of the global question. And finally, it is in the cross of Christ that we see, not necessarily the final piece of the puzzle, but the ultimate response to pain and evil in the world.

I found many valuable handles in this book for how to think about and respond to pain in my world and the world around me. However, I wish that Watts would have explored the notion, as other writers have, that in some sense creating a world involving freedom limited God’s ability to intervene when bad choices are made. But he prefers not to go there, suggesting indirectly instead that all the mysteries of the universe simply cannot be translated into human language. This leaves me with an uneasy feeling that in the end Watts would have to admit that God is in some way responsible for at least some of the pain and evil so rampant in our world. So, while helpful in many ways, this book is not my final stop on my personal quest to find the answer to the question of pain and evil in the world.