The Big Question: An Interview with Dr. Jerriton Brewin

Today, I have the great honor of talking with Dr. Jerriton Brewin. His book addresses the Big Question: How can a loving God allow so much suffering? As I said in my review, this "is an admirable, heartfelt, and well-researched book with much to embrace and even much to dispute. But most importantly, it is an invitation to move through the ages and pages of theological and philosophical debate on a painful issue and truly see God at work in creation and the human heart." 

Amazon Bio:
Dr. Jerriton Brewin is a medical doctor from India. His professional life demands seeing and treating a lot of people who suffer from various diseases. Because of his Christian background, he wanted to find good answers as to why a loving God would allow so much suffering for us. His quest for answers led him to read a lot of books on theology and philosophy that tried to address the problem of pain. However, discontent with all the lame answers given to the problem of suffering, he decided to wrestle with the questions himself and offer his own compelling, easily understandable, concise, to-the-point and a fresh approach to the problem of suffering, which has come out as his first book titled, God In The Teeth Of Suffering.

His book has been endorsed by the world renowned New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, and also by other highly acclaimed theologians. His God-given talent in bringing clarity to the Christian faith has enabled Christians and non-Christians appreciate the tenants of Christianity in a unique way. He is devoted to continue to serve his society and help people believe in an all-powerful and all-loving God even in the teeth of all suffering.

Thank you for talking with me. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write this book?

First of all, I thank you for interviewing me about my book. I should say that I was really happy to read your own new book! God has given you a unique talent to communicate the Christian way of life in the form of rich narratives. So congrats to you and keep it up!

Coming to your question, it all started when my dad and me were driving down a lonely road in the dark hours of the night. We were talking about a lot of things on our way when my dad brought up the topic of his old friend back in college. This friend of his had been a very active Christian communicator among his friends and colleagues in college. However, as years passed by, he eventually lost his faith and became an atheist. His reason: suffering.

The question of how an all-powerful and an all-loving God can allow all the evils that happen in our world has been daunting mankind since ages past. As Christians, we often learn to trust in God in the midst of suffering. However, there are times when our rationality breaks through our heart and seeks to cry for answers as to why God is allowing bad things to happen to good people. That’s what happened to my dad’s friend. His thinking gave way to the wrong conclusions. And there are many believers who have made similar conclusions that because evil exists, God cannot exist.

My dad was telling me this story and I could see a little bit of enigma lingering in his own mind as to why evil exists. At that point of time though, my lights also turned on and the question of God and suffering hit me as well like a ton of bricks. I needed to find credible answers to this daunting question. So I threw myself into reading a lot of books that dealt with the problem of pain and eventually, I thought that there was something missing in all these books, and that was a proper integration of all the credible strands of answers. And so, upon praying and reflecting, I decided to say something new that – as far as I know – nobody else has said, and hence the book came to be.

Many philosophers and theologians have tackled questions about God and human suffering. What are some of the major differences between your analysis and those?

Well, as I had just hinted, the strength of my book is in its integration. Lots of books that pick up the question of why God allows evil try to address the question from only one perspective. For example, Timothy Keller’s book on the problem of evil deals primarily with the pastoral perspective by helping Christians walk through the “fires” of suffering. Although he tries to tackle the question from a philosophical perspective, he doesn’t do well (as I have explained in my book).

Then there are books that deal with the problem primarily from a philosophical perspective like the books of William Lane Craig. While he does an excellent job in showing the philosophical compatibility of God and evil, I found some of his terms quite difficult to grasp for lay readers who are not philosophers. Just as an example, the word ‘possible’ can take several definitions depending on whether we are talking about logical possibility, metaphysical possibility or actual possibility. Without understanding these differences, it is hard to understand how the human free-will response succeeds in dissolving a logical contradiction between God and evil. In my book, I have made the distinctions with the help of diagrams, which can be easily understood by even the common man who isn’t a philosopher.

Then there is the theological perspective wherein the religious answers to the problem of evil are addressed. When it comes to a Biblical answer to the problem of evil, lots of books try to put Christ and the cross at the center of their interpretation. But how the ‘cross’ addresses the ‘why’ question is hardly explored. Besides, there are at least six Biblical reasons as to why God allows suffering (as I have explained in my book) and how the cross of Christ integrates into those answers has never been explored.

In my book, I have tried to integrate all the strands of Biblical answers and have woven them around the cross of Christ so as to offer a rich and variegated Biblical solution to the problem of evil which, I believe, will equip Christians to deal with the problem of evil more effectively. I have also explored the answers that other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam offer to the problem of evil and have shown that there are inherent deficiencies in them. Overall, my book comes from all angles, namely philosophical, theological, pastoral and inter-religious, and the towering answer to the ‘Problem of Evil’ is presented in the form of what I have called, The Garden Theodicy. This way of approach, I believe, is unique to my book, which makes it stand apart from other books dealing with the similar topic.

What was your research process like? What authors and thinkers did you study?

I began reflecting on this problem right from the age of 20 (I am currently 25 years old!). Even back in my college days as a medical student, I used to talk to a lot of people and get their own questions and tried to see if I could say something about them. But I knew that I was missing on a large part of scholarly discussion on the subject of God and suffering. And so I picked up my first book to read, which is written by the Christian-turned-agnostic New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, titled, “God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails To Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer.”

Following that, I delved into many books written by Christian, non-Christian and atheistic philosophers and theologians such as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, Ravi Zacharias, David Hume, William Rowe, J.L. Mackie, William Alston, Paul Draper, John Hick, Michael Murrey, James Crenshaw, John Walton, Terence Fretheim, G.K. Beale and so on. All of them are eminent scholars in their own fields. I heavily reference all of them because I myself am not a philosopher or theologian and hence citing experts who in those fields would give me the ground base to construct my own proposals in the book. I have to admit that doing all these while also managing my medical studies was indeed tedious. But God has given me the grace and the capacity to balance the two well and I am humbled before God for that.

What kind of research did you do for your analysis of the role of suffering in other world religions? 

I come from an Indian culture that is primarily Hindu. This had given me an added advantage to understand the Hindu mind and study their Scriptures with a better background. I also got to read books such as the Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, which presents the most recent scholarly thinking about Hinduism. Among other books, I also read the Blackwell Companion to Buddhist Philosophy to gain knowledge about Buddhism. As to Islam, I read the works of Muslim apologists such as Shabir Ally and also commentators of the Quran. My analysis of these religions enabled me to see how Christianity offers a more robust and a better solution to the problem of suffering. 

Throughout your book, you discuss several ideas that you identify as common misinterpretations and misconceptions that people glean from Scripture. Which of these do you think readers might find especially surprising?

This is interesting to discuss! To highlight just a couple of them, I grew up believing in the ideas of the rapture of the Church and the destruction of the world until late in my college days, when I was compelled to change my views in the light of vigorous Biblical scholarship. Many believe that before a great tribulation that would befall the earth, faithful Christians would be scooped up to heaven in the blink of the eye!

This idea of a pre-tribulation rapture is clearly falsified by Jesus in Mark 13:24-27 where he says that the tribulation will first happen and then (Greek: καί τότε) he will send his angels to gather the elect from the four corners of the earth. Similarly, when Matthew 24:40 talks about two people in the field and one being taken away and the other left behind, in context, Jesus is comparing this event to the event that happened during the days of Noah where the entire world was ‘taken away’ in the flood and only Noah and his family were ‘left behind.’ So, according to Jesus, it’s good to be left behind. 
Many also believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 talks about a ‘snatching away’ of Christians to heaven. While the first part is true (we will be snatched away from the earth), the second part is wrong. St. Paul doesn’t say that we will be snatched away to heaven. Instead, he says that we will be snatched away to the clouds (Greek: νεφέλαις). And here, people either assume that ‘heaven’ and ‘clouds’ mean the same thing or that we will eventually go from the clouds to heaven. Both are assumptions that I challenge in my book. 

The other side of the coin is the belief in heaven as the ultimate destiny of God’s people and the earth being burnt up to ashes. St. Paul clearly says in Romans 8:21 that this world will not be destroyed, but will instead be transformed into paradise. Likewise, St. John in the book of Revelation concludes, not with man going up to heaven to live with God forever, but that God will come down to earth and live with man forever (Revelation 21:1-4). I explain all these and more in the chapter, “Heaven Vacated and the Earth Restored.” 

The reason why I take the time to properly explain Christian eschatology is because our understanding of the end times will affect how we view the world of suffering in the present and revolve our lives around those beliefs. There are other surprises in my book as well that are the result of proper exegetical analysis of the Bible and I would encourage people to read them and come to their own conclusions. 

Is there anything that my readers and I can pray for you about?

My heart’s desire is for Christians to be strengthened in their faith and if there’s even a little that I could do to contribute to that end, I would be immensely happy. Hence I would request your readers to pray for God to make a difference in the lives of Christians and non-Christians who happen to read my book. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a voice among your readers, Chloe. God bless you and your readers!

You can buy this intriguing book on Amazon and follow Jerriton Brewin on Facebook.