The world we Americans live in changed forever on September 11, 2001. The destruction of the World Trade Center brought the reality of evil into our living rooms and made it part of the fabric of our lives. Os Guinness uses that event as a jumping off point to explore the concept of evil and what it means for us human beings. He explores the “Big Questions” about evil, like Why would God allow that?, Why me?, and Where was God? He tells how each of the three major faith families (Eastern, atheistic/humanistic, and Biblical) deals with evil.
Guinness offers clear, well thought-out arguments about the question of evil. He honestly concludes that sometimes we cannot know the answers to our questions. The book may not be very helpful to non-Christians, however, because Guinness’s bias is Christian, and he is very up-front about that. Guinness doesn’t explore the response of Islam to evil, and that is the book’s greatest weakness. Islam is increasingly influential in our post-modern world, and a discussion that omits it is incomplete.
Unspeakable is an important book for the post-modern world. After World War II, the world declared, “Never again!” We vowed that we would never again allow such evil to exist. Since then, however, we have repeatedly turned our backs on instances of genocide and on oppression throughout the world. We are only beginning to admit that we have not defeated evil and that it has continued to multiply and grow exponentially. At the same time, electronic communication has brought the events of the world into our daily lives. It is much easier to confront evil when it is one child beating up another in your neighborhood. But when you view murder and mayhem in your neighborhood, town, and country and from around the world every day, it becomes overwhelming. When we begin to understand the magnitude and depth of evil in the world today, it frightens us, but it also makes us feel impotent and powerless to effect any change.
We need hope. Os Guinness gives us that hope. He says that Christians, at least, must do what we can to make a difference. He says, “ None of us can save the world, and to try to do so would be to flirt with despair. Our tiny circles of influence are limited…but for all of us that influence is significant. And when we each exercise our responsible significance, and the significance of each of our callings overlaps with those of others, the ripples we make together can spread far and wide.” All the small drops of effort do make a big difference, just as many tiny drops of water make an ocean. We must each do what we can, however little that may be, because it does make a difference.