The problem of evil has been solved. Well, at least the logical problem of evil has been, which for the lived experience of most human beings is radically insufficient. Pain and suffering present a radically real problem for many people. People die, get sick, and deal with chronic pain. For some, these realities pose a major stumbling block to seeing God as good. Kelly Kapic, the author of Embodied Hope has experienced these realities first hand. His wife has dealt with the ravages and emotional toll of physical suffering. In light of this he has chosen to write a book which is both theological and pastoral, exploring the truths about God and ourselves which have bearing upon this problem of pain and suffering.
Naturally, the problem of evil is a really large topic, thus Kapic chooses to limit himself in two ways: First, he chooses to address Christians who suffer. Thus this book isn’t meant as a global defense against the existential problem of evil, or evil in general. It is aimed ad Christians who experience suffering. Second, he chooses to deal with suffering associated specifically with serious illness or physical pain.
The book is roughly divided into three parts. Part one deals with the limitations of easy answers often given to the problem of suffering and he deals with the nature of biblical lament. Here he also explores what it means to be embodied creatures. Part two turns to Christology in order to address some of these issues. Kapic believes that “Only by looking to this man [Christ] can we reorient our experience of suffering in a way that is truly Christian.” (15) In part three Kapic relates ecclesiology to the problem of suffering. He says that in the body of Christ we “discover a pattern for Christian discipleship that allows for genuine struggle, communal support, and transformative affection.” (15)
As someone who would consider myself to be a “pastor-theologian” I can really appreciate the nature of this work. Kapic works hard to make sure that our theological reflections are not separated from our pastoral practice. I found Kapic’s chapter on the Incarnation to be especially strong in maintaining this bond. Here he examines the theology of Athanasius and Warfield and concludes that,
The physicality of the Messiah takes us to the heart of the gospel and God’s promise, not just of sympathy but of rescue. God has come, come near, come to be God with us and God for us!” (75)
This is a powerful truth with major pastoral implications. Much incarnational theology has swung towards saying that the most important part of the incarnation is that Christ now has solidarity with us. This is certainly true, and pastorally significant, but solidarity without rescuing doesn’t offer much hope!
His chapter on confession was also enlightening. I have rarely seen a chapter on confession in a book addressing suffering. If I have, they are often very poorly written, wrongly teaching that our sickness/suffering is always tied to some hidden sin. So what does confession have to do with healing? Confession before others can help us disentangle our pain from the idea of personal punishment, it liberates us from shame and condemnation, it allows us to meet Christ in the other, and allows us to make ourselves truly vulnerable to the healing presence of God. This is truly powerful stuff!
So who should pick up this book? Undoubtedly, pastors! I mentioned above that this is a great example of pastoral theology. Kapic doesn’t present anything “new” here, or anything particularly interesting to academic theologians. However, he does an amazing job of making theology “real” for pastors and laypersons. I often hear that systematic theology is irrelevant or that it’s a nice intellectual pursuit, but here Kapic shows us that is simply untrue. The sort of historical theology and systematic theology he is engaging in this book is supremely relevant to the life of anyone who calls themselves a Christian.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.