16th November, 2010
What Good is God? On the Road with Stories of Grace
Hodder & Stoughton 2010
"To me this is Philip Yancey’s great skill - that he opens up questions and responses and allows the reader to explore these on a personal level."
This book - and its challenging title - is typical of Philip Yancey - responding to questions many of us don’t dare to ask. Yancey introduces his theme in the forward: "I keep leaving home in quest of what happens when the faith I write about in a mountain cabin confronts the real world. Does it work?"
When disaster, natural or manmade, hits our lives, our community, our nation, our world, it is natural to ask why and look for where God in it. If you expect an answer to why these things happen, this book is not for you, but if you want to see God in the centre of lives despite horrific circumstances, read on. Yancey sees these events and the aftermath as a testing time, to see how faith works itself out and how a belief in a loving God makes a difference.
There are 10 chapters in which the author describes the event or circumstances, the people involved and the pain and grief which result. The second part of each chapter is Yancey’s response in the form of a talk which explores the event, tries to process it and to see God at work in it. For example, he was asked to speak at Virginia Tech in April 2007 after the massacre of 32 university students and faculty by a disturbed Korean student. As you can imagine there are no easy answers, no platitudes that help. In fact Yancey writes, "I found myself following two different threads. The first thread is what I would like to say, the words I wish I could say. The second is the truth." There is no evading the pain and distress caused to people’s lives; this is an unflinching look at reality, but also at the compassion and grace of God towards the suffering.
There are also stories about more ordinary aspects of life as in chapters titled 'Green Lake: Professional Sex Workers' and ‘Cambridge: Remembering C.S. Lewis’. Yancey speakswith people from all sections of the community, and is always interested in hearing personal stories of how Jesus is impacting and changing lives. Not all of this happens in ways we may be comfortable with, but it does show how God’s compassion and grace are so much larger and more encompassing than ours.
Yancey continually affirms his own faith and position throughout this book with statements such as "I am a Christian not because Jesus’ way benefits society but because I believe it is true." He does not hesitate to pose challenging questions: "What have we done that we communicate church as a place for well people rather than a place to get well?"; "How differently would the world view my country if it associated the US with the ‘Jesus syndrome’ rather than with weapons, wealth and the ‘Baywatch syndrome’?" The questions are asked and left for the reader to explore and answer for themselves.
I read this book through once, then immediately read it again at a slower pace to allow myself to think through my own reactions to the events described. To me this is Philip Yancey’s great skill - that he opens up questions and responses and allows the reader to explore these on a personal level. At the very end of this book he writes "Often when people pose a question like 'What good is God?' they are asking why God doesn’t intervene more directly and with more force...as earthly powers have learned, force and freedom make uneasy partners and an emphasis on one always diminishes the other; God consistently tilts towards human freedom. In the end, though we have no sure answer and only fleeting glimpses of God’s ultimate plan."
This is the challenge Yancey gives us - to hold on to God by faith even when we don’t have the answers and nothing is making sense, so the world can see ‘What Good God is’ through our reactions and responses. Well worth reading as a stimulus to clarify our own response to the question often asked of Christians 'What Good is God?’
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