Yancey begins by considering his friend’s request that God reveal himself with a unforgettable display. Early in Israel’s history, God did just that, by striking the Egyptians with plagues, parting a sea, speaking directly to the people, and feeding them miraculously. Instead of endearing the Israelites to God, the displays of power seemed to produce the opposite effect—the people told Moses to speak to God, so that He wouldn’t speak to them (and then promptly made a golden calf to replace God when Moses disappeared for over a month). In fact, right after Elijah had been a part of God dramatically revealing Himself and silencing the prophets of Baal, he fled from a political backlash and mourned that he was the only follower of God left, instead of trusting God more completely. So it would seem that God has justifiably little interest in visibly revealing Himself.
God took a risk in creating us. He deeply wants to love us and have us love Him back. In doing so, He opened Himself to unrequited love. By giving us free will so that we can willingly return His love, He limited Himself and so there are some things He cannot do. He cannot right all wrongs in the world, because we chose to abandom Him and He must honor our choice if that choice is to be meaningful. Likewise, He cannot force us to love Him; He must persuade us, entice us.
God wants a deep, adult-type relationship with us. But impressive and unmistakeable punishments do not seem to succeed in making us more mature—we just become afraid of God, clearly not what He wants. So He hides Himself and takes a different approach. He became one of us. While Jesus was living on earth God could express his opinions without causing people to be afraid. And anyone wanting to know how God felt about something could just ask or observe him. Although we will continue to be disappointed until He returns to fix the world, God can sympathize with us, because, He has experienced what it is like to be disappointed with God, to endure the evils of the world, to live in an unfair world.
Of course, we responded to His becoming Man by killing him off. But now God can relate to us the way He always wanted to: through His Spirit. He is making us into little Christs, as C.S. Lewis said, and instead of revealing Himself directly to the world, God has delegated to us the task of revealing Himself. We may badly misrepresent Him, but God has chosen this way to woo the world. “Richard probably will never hear a voice from a whirlwind that drowns out all questions. He will likely never get a personal glimpse of God in this life. He will only see me.” (160)
What should our response be in the midst of suffering, then? Yancey answers this by looking at the book of Job. The focus of Job is a cosmic wager between God and Satan. Satan says that people will not worship God simply for who He is; God chooses Job to show that people will. So God hides Himself from Job, Satan destroys Job’s life, and although Job curses his life, gets upset at his friends, and even shouts (in a manner of speaking) at God, He still trusts in God. And this is what God really wants—trust. More than just childlike faith (which is good), God wants fidelity, which is often developed through suffering.
“... I realized that there are actually two cosmic wagers transpiring. I have focused on The Wager from God’s point of view, The Wager as pictured in the Book of Job, in which God ‘risks’ the future of the human experiment on a person’s response. I doubt anyone fully understands that wager, but Jesus taught that the end of human history will boil down to one issue: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ The second wager, reflecting the human viewpoint, is the one that Job himself engaged in: should he choose for God or against him? Job weighed the evidence, most of which did not suggest a trustworthy God. But he decided, kicking and screaming all the way, to place his faith in God.” (309)
Yancey gives both an clear and cogent explanation of why God does not show Himself very often, and an excellent portrayal of God as a lover of mankind, whom we have rejected. Yancey clearly answers the three questions he poses to himself: Is God unfair? Is He hidden? Is He silent? by looking at the Bible and considering the Bible from God’s perspective. If the Bible is a message from God to Man, Yancey’s analysis is the first time I have heard a understandable description of what the message is. He also explains what our response should be (namely, trusting God) and its importance in a compelling fashion.
After reading Finding God, by Larry Crabb, I got the impression that Crabb did not really understand what suffering was all about. He came to the same conclusion as Yancey with regard to our reaction: we need to seek God more than relief from pain. However, Yancey goes further and shows why our reaction to pain should be to seek God. In doing so, he gives the reader a framework of living that is both exciting and scary: God has let us represent Himself to the world.
Yancey writes in a surprisingly literary style. He is clearly very widely read, quoting not only theological writers, but also Dostoyevsky and Lewis Carrol. The ending page of each chapter has quotations from a wide variety of sources, which never fail to be thought provoking. Yancey is very accessible. He weaves a story about God as a lover that is not only literary, but easy to read and emotional as well. (I think I cried through the first half of the book, an astonishing rarity for me) While C.S. Lewis gives a superb and thought-provoking intellectual discussion of suffering in The Problem of Pain, it is not a book for someone actually suffering. Yancey gives both a solid intellectual content and style while ensuring that everyone can benefit by reading the book. Disappointment with God is a great example of Christian writing that is intellectually challenging, emotionally stirring, and readily accessible. One of the most well written books I have read, and a definite must-read for every Christian.
Christian books must be accessible or they fail their primary purpose: to bring people closer to God. Too often accessiblity comes at the price of literary quality. Yancey does both excellently. Furthermore (and most importantly) the content of the book will surely show God in a way that draws the reader to God. Every time I read “He will likely never get a personal glimpse of God in this life. He will only see me.” I cannot help both tearing up and strongly desiring to represent God as best as I can let Him. This is definitely a worthy 100-year book: great content (everyone needs to read this) combined with excellent presentation.
- “You could view the covenant with Noah as the barest minimum of a relationship: one party agrees not to obliterate the other. And yet even in that promise God limited himself. He, the sworn enemy of all evil in the universe, pledged to endure wickedness on this planet for a time—or, rather, to solve it through some means other than annihilation.” (63)
- “The esteemed matriarchs of the covenant—Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel—all spent their best child-bearing years slender and in despair. They too experienced the blaze of revelation, followed by dark and lonely times of waiting that nothing but faith would fill. Somehow, that faith was what God valued, and it soon became clear that faith was the best way for humans to express a love for God.” (65-66)
- Solomon got whatever he wanted—money, women, power, etc. Yet, while he started off devoted to God, gradually he began to rely on them. “Success may have eliminated any crises of disappointment with God, but it also seemed to eliminate Solomon’s desire for God at all. The more he enjoyed the world’s good gifts, the less he thought about the Giver.” (81)
- God expresses his feelings to the prophets.
- They ask why He hid Himself and He said that Israel came to worship him with bloody hands, that when he called they didn’t listen, so now when they call, he won’t listen.
- They ask why God doesn’t deal justice and He says that it is because He is merciful—when He comes to do justice, we won’t want to be around!
- He says that He wails over the destruction of Moab—Israel’s enemy! And when Israel is scattered, it is not them, but God that is mocked. God suffers along with us.
- “The powerful image of a jilted lover explains why, in his speeches to the prophets, God seems to ‘change his mind’ every few seconds. He is preparing to obliterate Israel—wait, now he is weeping, holding out open arms—no, he is sternly pronouncing judgement again. Those shifting moods seem hopelessly irrational, except to anyone who has been jilted by a lover.” (98)
- When God spoke the earth shook and people were terrified. “Ironically, while [God gave up a lot to become a man] it also involved a kind of freedom. ... He could say what he wanted without his voice blasting the treetops. He could express anger by calling King Herod a fox or by reaching for a bullwhip in the temple, rather than shaking the earth with his stormy presence. And he could talk to anyone—a prostitute, a blind man, a widow, a leper—without first having to announce, ‘Fear not!’ [like the angels always did].” (113)
- “With remarkable consistency, the Bible’s accounts show that miracles—dramatic, showstopping miracles like many of us still long for—simply do not foster deep faith.” (128)
- “Because of Jesus, we no longer have to wonder how God feels like, or what he is like. When in doubt, we can look at Jesus to correct our blurry vision. If I wonder how God views deformed or disabled people, I can watch Jesus among the crippled, the blind, and those with leprosy. If I wonder about the poor, and whether God has destined them to lives of misery, I can read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. And if I ever wonder about the appropriate ‘spiritual’ response to pain and suffering, I can note how Jesus responded to his own: with fear and trembling, with loud cries and tears.” (140)
- All things are not yet subject to God (Hebrews notes this), but God has become one of us so that He can sympathize with us. Since all things are not yet subject to God, we will continue to be disappointed with Him, but He can sympathize with us.
- God has chosen to bring the world to love Him through us:
- He lives in us, so that we represent His holiness to the world. He has chosen to subject Himself to us—we can choose poorly and quench the spirit. But if you want to see God, then look to a Christian. (Of course, there is the risk we may represent Him badly—and we have—, but He is apparently ok with that risk)
- We do God’s work. God apparently prefers to delegate everything that He can to us. God wants to heal the world through our actions, rather than directly.
- “Richard probably will never hear a voice from a whirlwind that drowns out all questions. He will likely never get a personal glimpse of God in this life. He will only see me.” (160)
- God seems to have tried three ways:
- A voice of power. But people were afraid and few obeyed after the voice was quiet
- The voice of Jesus. People killed that one off.
- Now He speaks with His Spirit. “It is the most vulnerable Voice of all, and the easiest to ignore.” (170) But it is also the closest, and intercedes for us. One day, God will be with us this way for all eternity.
- The book of Job is not about suffering. It is about faith. It is about how Job responds.
- The wager between God and Satan in chapters 1 and 2 show this.
- “As I studied Job further, however, I saw that I had been harboring the wrong image of what took place. Yes, there was an arm wrestling match, but not between Job and God. Rather, Satan and God were the chief combatants, although—most significantly—God had designated the man Job as his stand-in.” (194)
- The question of the book is not “why?” but “to what end?” Somehow, when we trust God and have faith in Him even though there is no concrete reason to trust Him, just trust Him for who He is, we are helping change the universe back the way it should be.
- Life is unfair. Jesus never tries to claim that it isn’t, never suggests that you look on the good side of things. He weeps with those who hurt and had the ultimate unfairness meted out to him. Even God is not exempt from unfairness.
- “The Cross of Christ may have overcome evil, but it did not overcome unfairness. For that, Easter is required. Someday God will restore all physical reality to its proper place under his reign. Until then, it is a good thing to remember that we live out our days on Easter Saturday.” (218)
- Why does God not answer Job’s question about why it all happened to him? Speculations:
- It wouldn’t help. Jeremiah knew why Jerusalem had been destroyed, but still wrote Lamentations
- We cannot understand the answer because we are bound in time. We can only understand how all things work for good after it has already happened.
- God wants faith
- “The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in.” (243)
- God wants childlike faith that simply believes, but there is another kind of faith—fidelity. This is faith when there is no reason to believe.
- “We have little comprehension of what our faith means to God. ... Ever since God took the ‘risk’ of making room for free human beings, faith—true, unbribed, freely offered faith—has had an intrinsic value to God that we can barely imagine. There is no better way for us to express love to God than by exercising fidelity to him.” (250)
- God does not expect us to suffer anything he did not: Jesus suffered it all.
- Modern culture tends to have a reductionist worldview. We look at the beam of light, not along it. Neither is “correct”, just different ways of looking at the world. So we see that everything boils down to just hormones and electrical signals in the body. But a symphony is similar: although it is just variations of air pressures, it is also so much more. Our will is accomplished in our body through hormones and electrical signals; how else could our will accomplish it?
- Likewise in the church: Jesus is the head, and we, however simple it appears, are how he accomplishes his work.
- God will sometimes be hidden; in fact, to create the faith he wants he may even hide himself (ex. Job). Three responses to God’s hiddenness
- Retailiate by ignoring him (bad)
- We know that God is just, so don’t say anything that suggests otherwise (Job’s friends)
- Say what we really think (Job)
- Given that God condemns Jobs friends, it would seem that God is fine with telling him what we think. In fact, all the great people of faith told him exactly how they were feeling.
- We should also remember that we don’t know the whole picture; we cannot perceive the spritual world. God’s message to Job was: “If you can’t comprehend the visible world you live in, how dare you expect to comprehend a world you cannot even see!” (287)
- The pain of this life is temporary. Eventually God will make things perfect. If this were not so, then we would be “too be most pitied of all men” as Paul said.
- Miracles are a sign of the future to come
- “When yearning for a miraculous resolution to a problem, do we make our loyalty to God contingent on whether he reveals himself yet again in the seen world?” (294)
- “... I realized that there are actually two cosmic wagers transpiring. I have focused on The Wager from God’s point of view, The Wager as pictured in the Book of Job, in which God ‘risks’ the future of the human experiment on a person’s response. I doubt anyone fully understands that wager, but Jesus taught that the end of human history will boil down to one issue: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ The second wager, reflecting the human viewpoint, is the one that Job himself engaged in: should he choose for God or against him? Job weighed the evidence, most of which did not suggest a trustworthy God. But he decided, kicking and screaming all the way, to place his faith in God.” (309)