Book Review: “When God’s Ways Make No Sense”

This review is sponsored by Baker Books, who provided me with the book for the purpose of reviewing. There is an affiliate link by which, if you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you).

I’ve been a Christian my whole life.  I “prayed the prayer” accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, the first time, when I was four years old.  At different points throughout my life my understanding of salvation changed and evolved and now, at nearly half-a-century of living, I understand this:

I KNOW NOTHING.

I can echo with Paul that the things I want to do (live and love like Christ) I don’t do, and the things I despise (living in fear and judgement and overall human nastiness) I do.  Once a preacher and a youth pastor, at times a music minister and and a women’s leader, once a speaker-into-the-lives-of-others and a teacher and an inspirational writer…now just a middle-aged broad who realizes just how horribly imperfect she is and how much damage she’s capable of.

I have no right to speak to anyone. I can’t even get my own crap together.

I think Dr. Larry Crabb has been in the same place. Well, not the woman part, but everything else.

I think that because, in his newly published When God’s Ways Make No Sense, he asks the question that drives us all crazy, the question that has even driven some people away from Christ:

“If God is good, then what is He good for?”

And with that question he dives into the heart of the matter. If God isn’t bent on punishing the wicked and causing His people to do the right thing – just LOOK at the world, LOOK at those who call themselves “the Church”, LOOK! God! It’s disgusting out there! – what is He bent on? Is He even there?

With this review, I could outline how three biblical characters – Jonah, Saul of Tarsus, and Habbakuk – are compared and contrasted. I could look at the different thoughts about God’s sovereignty are examined and evaluated.

But I won’t.

Instead, I will share with you the statement that put a lifetime of walking and falling and sinning and failing and wondering if I would ever live up to God’s expectations of me into eternal perspective:

“Let me try to express the inexpressible good purpose toward which God is faithfully moving us: His Spirit is overwhelming the fallen power of self-centeredness so deeply imbedded [sic] within us with the thirst always stirring in even deeper places within us, a thirst to delight God by trusting His goodness in the worst of times.  That overwhelming thirst frees us to relate in the divine energy of other-centeredness. And when we fail, as we surely will, we trust that God’s love is not weakened and that His good purpose in us will yet be accomplished.” (emphasis added)

This book has renewed my faith in a God I don’t always – or ever – understand.  Before walking away in despair and discouragement and disbelief, read this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

We live in a world of superficiality, a world where Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are flooded with selfies and soundbites, where we communicate in “textese” only as much as our data plan will allow, and where our “race to the top” is a contest to see who can have the biggest (or smallest, if you’re into the tiny house movement), the fastest and newest car, and the funnest vacation.  Parents throw exorbitant Pinterest parties for their toddlers, and “creating fun memories” is on the cover of every family life magazine.  Pleasure and enjoyment has become the end in life, and we slog through our daily lives just to get to the next fun activity.

But the house leaks, the car breaks down, the toddler screams while sitting in a messy diaper, the boss is making work life miserable, and the 4,307 “friends” we have on Facebook aren’t there when the fun ends.  Our personal life planters have beautiful blooms for everyone to see…but when the scorching heat of difficulty and pain bigan baking us, we discover that there is no root system, and everything we think is secure withers and dies.  Our faith, along with everything else, fizzles, and we wonder what the point of it all is.

Sister Joan Chittister, in her inimitable fashion, has the answer.  It’s not a new pop psychology theory, or a 3-step system to self-fulfillment.  No, in her newest book, Radical Spirit, she presents truth that is thousands of years old, and is as generally ignored as it is old.

9780451495174

What is “radical spirit”?  Both words are so overused and colloquialized in modern language, I decided to look them up.  Based on the primary definitions of each word I found, I translated the title to this: “Thorough Soul”.  That still didn’t satisfy my curiosity, so I followed the word “thorough” back to its Latin roots.  Thorough, from the Latin radicalis, meant in middle English, “forming the root.”  And there I had it: forming the root of the soul.  In our rootless, groundless, modern existence, finding a stable root system for our lives is exactly what we need…and this book delivers.

Based on the Benedictine Rule of Humility (and who better to bring this into the modern era than a modern Benedictine nun?), Sister Chittister walks us through the remarkably radical – that is, countercultural and counterintuitive –Twelve Steps of Humility (strangely similar to the twelve steps of recovery…) established by St. Benedict himself.  She paraphrases the process like this:

  • Recognize that God is God.
  • Know that God’s will is best for you.
  • Seek direction from wisdom figures.
  • Endure the pains of development and do not give up.
  • Acknowledge faults and strip away the masks.
  • Be content with less than the best.
  • Let go of a false sense of self.
  • Preserve tradition and learn from the community.
  • Listen.
  • Never ridicule anyone or anything.
  • Speak kindly.
  • Be serene, stay calm.

In a world that encourages self-promotion and promises reward for climbing to the top, this Rule – based entirely on the Holy Scriptures – encourages self-effacement and full reliance on and obedience to God, and those whom God places over us in our lives. Just as Christ taught in the Beatitudes, “the meek shall inherit the earth” and as St. Francis prayed, “It is in dying that we find eternal life”, these 12 steps guarantee exaltation not through self-effort and striving for praise and glory, but through the pursuit and practice – yes, practice – of humility.

If relief from the rat race and refreshment from the unending, empty cycle of self-fulfillment is what you seek, read this book.  Then start with Step One.  Although each step is a greater spiritual challenge than the one before, you will sense a freer, calmer, and more grounded sense of being.  Your life will have a well-developed root system, protecting it from the harshness and heat of life’s difficulties.  You will find freedom.   From the introduction:

It is humility that stands to set us free.  Free from the ambition that drives us, from the angers that rule us, from the greed that consumes us, from the chains we have mistaken for success and superiority.

I loved this book, and will read again and again as I, in my midlife years, search to achieve a sense of authenticity and true meaning for the rest of my life.  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10, KJV).

(Chittister, Joan. Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life.  2017. Convergent Books: New York.  ISBN 978-0-451-49517-4. $22.00.  I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)