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.