Letters from a Skeptic chronicles Greg Boyd’s correspondence with his father’s questions about Christianity. Boyd’s answers to some of life’s toughest questions are brief and encouraging but of course incomplete. Here I will summarize his answers to the questions I found most challenging:

Why is the world so full of suffering?

Love without freedom is not love, and freedom without freedom to help or hurt others is not freedom. In free world, there are Warren Buffets and Hitlers. But is it worth it? It is the nature of love to hurt. “People reject us, they die, kids rebel, etc… If a person never loved, he’d never suffer. But then again, he’d never really live.” God is in the same position, on a cosmic scale. Love is the only reason worth creating, and it is very risky – for God and for us.

What about earthquakes and famines?

Famines are mostly caused by human evil discussed above: there’s plenty of food in the world. Earthquakes & company are the natural consequence of God creating anything less than himself. Things must possess certain characteristics that rule out possessing other characteristics. “The rock which holds you up must also be hard enough for you to stub your toe on it.” The natural world is limited because it is real, not because it is evil. Evil spiritual forces may also be at work, but we don’t know much about them.

What’s the point of prayer?

The main purpose of prayer is to build a relationship. Petitionary prayer may represent our bit of “say-so” in the spiritual realm (just as we have say-so in the physical realm). But prayer doesn’t always work; God is not a cosmic vending machine. Many forces interact: free wills, prayer, evil forces, and natural forces. God doesn’t usually override all these because that wouldn’t be a free world.

Why do you think Jesus actually rose from the dead?

1. The Resurrection is attested by three independent sources (the Synoptic gospels, John, and Paul) within 70 years of Jesus’ death (compare to, say, Buddha, whose first biography was written a millenia after his death).
2. Everyone knew where Jesus was buried. One could have easily proved the disciples wrong about Christ’s resurrection by simply digging up Christ’s body.
3. The resurrection accounts lack characteristics of myth. For example, there is much irrelevant and easily falsifiable detail (the name of the Sanhedrin member who donated Jesus’ tomb, etc.) There is also counter-productive material (which myths usually lack), for example the role of women (who were considered incurable liars) in the story.
4. Paul converted because of his conversion with the risen Christ. Why else would a persecutor of Christians join them, and why would he lie about the nature of his conversion?

[My note: The resurrection of Jesus is far from proven, but it does have far more historical support than any other resurrection in history.]

Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?

Even stupendous events can be explained away or forgotten. Even after the plagues, Egypt did not worship God. And Jesus’ miracles could be dismissed as tricks. Moreover, the world is incredibly complex because of the interactions mentioned above, and so there is as much evidence for evil and chaos as there is for a benevolent God.

[Unforunately, Boyd’s answers about the inspired-ness of Scripture and how a loving God could let whole civilizations go to hell because nobody told them about God are unsatisfactory to me, and I won’t reproduce them.]